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Features

Brain Training Strategies May Be Beneficial

Many of today’s children and adolescents are enjoying the benefits of  “Brain Games” and find that these games really help with memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing, and problem solving skills. Lumosity is an online brain training and neuroscience research company based in San Francisco, California. Lumosity offers a brain training program consisting of more than 40 games in the areas of memory, attention, flexibility, speed of processing, and problem solving. Lumosity scientists take common cognitive and neuropsychological tasks out of the lab, design some new ones, and turn these into challenging games. The Human Cognition Project (HCP) is a collaboration between Lumosity’s in-house science team and various academic scientists, clinicians, and educators interested in understanding and exploring human cognitive abilities. HCP researchers receive complimentary access to Lumosity’s tools and, in certain cases, limited access to select portions of Lumosity’s database of cognitive game performance. At the time of writing, there are 43 ongoing HCP studies exploring topics such as age-related cognitive decline, interventions for PTSD, and the relationship between physical exercise and Lumosity training.

Individualized brain training programs are available online or locally across the U.S for children and adults with autism, dyslexia, ADD/ADHD, sensory and processing disorders, traumatic brain injuries, developmental delays, Down syndrome, Asperger’s, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and memory problems. These programs can provide training that may improve attention, working memory, auditory and visual processing, planning, and critical thinking skills.

In a federally sponsored trial of almost 3,000 older adults, the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, or ACTIVE, examined how three brain training programs focusing on processing speed, memory and reasoning ability affected cognitive functioning in normal adults as they aged. A brief course of brain exercises helped older adults hold on to improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed for up to ten years after the course ended. This was the largest study ever done on cognitive training. People in the study had an average age of 74 when they started the training, which involved 10 to 12 sessions lasting 60 to 75 minutes each. After five years, researchers found those with the training performed better than their untrained counterparts in all three measures. Although gains in memory seen at the study’s five-year mark appeared to drop off over the next five years, gains in reasoning ability and processing speed persisted 10 years after the training, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

A research team continues to be funded from the National Institute on Aging to study the effects of brain training further. While the evidence is growing, further research is needed to examine this phenomenon. As humans age, these strategies associated with brain training may well show benefit. Whether these brain training strategies actually strengthen the brain in the same way that exercising builds muscle is not clear, but the National Institute on Aging intends to study this and other related questions further to see if  cognitive training can in fact result in  physical changes in the human brain.

About the Author:
Thomas W. Miller, Ph.D. ABPP, Staff Writer, is a Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist, Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, University of Connecticut and a retired tenured Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Kentucky.

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