Our culture is rife with suggestions on how to inoculate our brains against dementia: learn a language, eat olive oil, and drink coffee.
We can exercise (I know a lot of bright old people playing tennis). We should do crossword puzzles, and carry Sudoku with us wherever we go. One brain training program advertises relentlessly on NPR.
But only one method of brain training has been scientifically proven to significantly reduce dementia.
Jerri Edwards, PhD, of the University of South Florida did a meta-analysis of 50 peer-reviewed research papers on a specific type of brain training called speed of processing training.(1)
Approximately 6 to 10 percent of us will experience symptoms of dementia after age 65. As lifespans increase, it is thought that 19 percent of Americans will have dementia by 2030. An estimated 75 percent of those with dementia have Alzheimer’s disease.
Symptoms of dementia can include memory problems, slowed cognitive function and decreased motor function.(2)
In addition to her meta-analysis, Edwards and her team also created a study called Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE).
The ACTIVE study found older adults who completed 11 or mores sessions of speed of processing brain-training had a 48 percent decrease in risk for dementia over 10 years.(1)
For each session of training completed, their risk of dementia was reduced by 8 percent.(1)
Participants who completed the training showed improvement in:(1)
- Ability to pay attention
- Depressive symptoms
- Feelings of control
- Health-related quality of life
Participants also showed a reduction in health care costs.
The gains from speed of processing training transferred to participants’ daily lives in other practical ways.
Behind the wheel, these studies showed that participants improved their reaction time, with a 36 percent decrease of dangerous driving maneuvers, and another 22 feet of stopping distance at 55 mph.
1) Edwards, Jerry. Brain Training Reduces Dementia Risk Across 10 Years. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
2) Chapman, Daniel P., PhD. Dementia and Its Implications for Public Health. Retrieved August 25, 2016.