Scimex: Researchers at the University of Sydney have found that engaging in computer-based brain training can improve memory and mood in older adults with mild cognitive impairment – but training is no longer effective once a dementia diagnosis has been made. The team, comprising researchers from the Brain and Mind Centre , reviewed more than 20 years of research and showed that brain training could lead to improvements in global cognition, memory, learning and attention, as well as psychosocial functioning (mood and self-perceived quality of life) in people with mild cognitive impairment. Conversely, when data from 12 studies of brain training in people with dementia was combined, results were not positive.
The results are published today in the prestigious American Journal of Psychiatry.
Mild cognitive impairment involves a decline in memory and other
thinking skills despite generally intact daily living skills, and is one
of strongest risk factors for dementia. People with mild cognitive
impairment are at one-in-10 risk of developing dementia within a year –
and the risk is markedly higher among those with depression.
Brain training is a treatment for enhancing memory and thinking
skills by practising mentally challenging computer-based exercises –
which are designed to look and feel like video games.
Dr Amit Lampit
from the School of Psychology, who led the study said the results
showed brain training could play an important role in helping to prevent
“Our research shows that brain training can maintain or even improve
cognitive skills among older people at very high risk of cognitive
decline – and it’s an inexpensive and safe treatment,” Dr Lampit said.
To arrive at their conclusions, the team combined outcomes from 17
randomised clinical trials including nearly 700 participants, using a
mathematical approach called meta-analysis, widely recognised as the
highest level of medical evidence.
The team has used meta-analysis before to show that brain training is useful in other populations, such as healthy older adults and those with Parkinson’s disease.
“Taken together, these wide-ranging analyses have provided the
necessary evidence to pursue clinical implementation of brain training
in the aged-care sector - while continuing research aimed at improving
training effectiveness”, Dr Lampit said.
Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela,
leader of the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind
Centre, believes new technology is the key to moving the field forward.
“The great challenges in this area are maintaining training gains
over the long term and moving this treatment out of the clinic and into
people’s homes. ” Associate Professor Valenzuela said.
“This is exactly what we are working on right now.”
Associate Professor Valenzuela is one of the leaders of the
multi-million-dollar Australian Maintain your Brain trial that will test
if a tailored program of lifestyle modification, including weekly brain
training over four years, can prevent dementia in a group of 18,000
The new research article is available online:
‘Computerized Cognitive Training in Older Adults With Mild Cognitive
Impairment or Dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’ by Nicole
Hill, Loren Mowszowski, Sharon Naismith, Verity Chadwick, Michael
Valenzuela and Amit Lampit. American Journal of Psychiatry, 14 Nov 2016. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16030360
Notes to editors
What is brain training?
Brain training (or more precisely computerised cognitive training or
CCT) is a treatment for enhancing memory and thinking skills by
practising mentally challenging exercises on computer. The exercises are
designed to look and feel like video games and are based on
well-established neuropsychological principles to target specific
cognitive domains. Most CCT programs adapt training difficulty so the
exercises become harder as performance improves and also provide
feedback on progress.
What’s the difference between cognitive impairment and dementia?
These concepts tend to lie along a continuum of cognitive function.
Most cognitive domains decline as we get older but there is great
variability between individuals and even within our own trajectories
over time. This variability increases in later life and so can make the
distinction between normal and impaired, or between impaired and
Neuropsychological testing can then be useful to find out how they
compare to the average person of their age, sex and level of education.
If multiple tests for a given cognitive domain point to a result less
than the 10th percentile, then they may have an impairment in that
For a diagnosis of dementia, four main conditions need to be satisfied:
1. impairment on multiple cognitive domains
2. a definite decline in cognitive function
3. exclusion of any possible medical causes for this decline, and
4. the person is no longer able to carry out day-to-day tasks.
In practice, the last criterion – being able to do one’s daily
activities independently – is pivotal to distinguishing between
cognitive impairment and dementia.
The paper will be available at http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.2016.16030360