Computer Games Can Reverse Mental Decline: UCLA Study

Wednesday, 26 Jun 2013 04:01 PM

By Charlotte Libov

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Growing older often means forgetting names, faces, or even where the car is parked – but a new study shows that playing a computer brain-training game can help.
 
UCLA researchers found that elderly people who played a brain-fitness computer game  significantly improved their memory and language skills.
 
“This is great news. What this study says is that if you get one of these computer games, and you use it regularly, your brain is going to improve in terms of memory,” said Gary Small, M.D., professor and director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
 
Age-related memory decline affects approximately 40 percent of older adults. And while previous studies have shown that engaging in stimulating mental activities can help older adults improve their memory, little research had been done to determine whether the numerous computerized brain-fitness games and memory training programs on the market are effective in improving memory. This is one of the first studies to assess the cognitive effects of a computerized memory-training program.
 
Scientists still aren’t sure how computer usage leads to cognitive improvement. Dr. Small, author of The Mind Health Report newsletter, offers two theories. The first is that playing such games exercise brain cells, strengthening them in much the same way that weight training builds muscles. The other possibility is that playing the games teaches older people how to compensate for age-related memory loss.
 
“By age 45 the average person shows decreases in memory ability, and it continues to get worse with age. So this may be a way that people learn techniques to compensate,” Dr. Small told Newsmax Health.
 
The UCLA team studied 69 dementia-free participants with an average age of 82 who were recruited from Southern California retirement communities. They played a computer brain-fitness program. The game consists of exercises in short- and long-term memory, language, visual-spatial processing, reasoning, problem-solving, and math calculation skills.  
The study found of the 69 participants, the 52 individuals who over a six-month period completed at least 40 sessions (or 20-25 minutes each) on the program showed mental improvement. The study showed that the more subjects played the game, the more improvement they showed in memory, said Dr. Small, who wrote the best-selling book The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program.
 
While the study looked at people who did not have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the findings have important implications for that group, said Dr. Small.
 
“Alzheimer’s disease is by definition the loss of cognitive ability that leaves individuals unable to function independently. If you can delay that loss of cognitive function you can in essence delay the onset of Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Small.
 
Using brain-training programs, good nutrition, exercise, and stress management can forestall Alzheimer’s symptoms for some three-to-four years, he said. “This is important to do while waiting for science to find a cure,” Dr. Small added.
 
The computer game used in the UCLA study is Dakim BrainFitness, but there are similar ones on the market including Lumosity and Posit Science’s Brain HQ.
 
SPECIAL: How One Deck of Cards Has Shown to Improve Memory
 
 

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