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Continued: Flexing mental muscles keeps aging brain healthy

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Last update: January 24, 2014 - 11:47 PM

Promising, not proof

In the decadelong brain training study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers tested about 2,800 participants in areas of memory, reasoning and processing speed. Some participants completed several rounds of brain exercises, while others received no exercises.

Roughly 74 percent of the participants who did the exercises retained their ability to do reasoning tasks 10 years later. That compares with 62 percent of those who did not do the exercises. The difference between the groups was even more pronounced when it came to speed of information processing.

In all, 71 percent of those who received speed exercises did as well or better 10 years later, whereas only 48 percent of the participants who did not get the exercises did as well a decade later. Notably, however, the memory training exercises showed no measurable difference a decade later.

Rebok said researchers were surprised by the long-term effects of brain training, adding that the results are promising. But he stopped short of saying the study is an endorsement for brain games on the market.

“Some of these programs are created by well-respected scientists and have a good scientific base supporting them,” he said. “A lot of them don’t.”

Questions remain

Doctors who work with Alzheimer’s patients acknowledged the study’s merits but also noted its limits.

The findings about the possible benefits of brain training are “very” significant, said Knopman. At the same time, there are many different ways to stimulate the brain, he said.

His advice to patients? “I think it’s fine if you want to spend $200 on Lumosity or some other type of brain training,” he said. “But I think you can get the same benefits by being part of a Bible study or a book club or discussing current events with your family or reading and doing things that are actually more social than [playing] a computer game, which in some sense is socially isolating.”

As for Lehmann, he’s simply added his digital brain games to his health regimen, which includes doing yoga, watching his diet and meeting regularly with friends. He’s not sure which activities are helping the most.

“It’s a strange situation. Without knowing anything definitive of a cure, everything they [recommend] is about keeping active and keeping your mind busy — and I agree with that,” he said.

But there’s another reason he plays “Memory Matrix” so often on his iPad: “I enjoy it so I keep doing it.”

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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