Boost Your Brain, Add Years to Your Life

What are you willing to do to protect your brain? Is exercise something you would consider if it means staving off the debilitating and deadly disease of Alzheimer’s as you age?

Great hope surrounds new research presented in Toronto over the weekend at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC). It shows a unique brain exercise can cut a person’s long-term risk of the disease.

“Time spent on effective brain training has potential long-lasting benefits for many aspects of older adults’ lives,” said one researcher.

Researchers from the ACTIVE Study (Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly) — a project funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research — tracked 2,802 cognitively healthy and community-dwelling older adults for 10 years; the average study participant was anywhere from 74 to 84 years old. The randomized, controlled trial compared three different types of cognitive training — speed, memory, and reasoning — against a control group to determine if brain training might help with healthier aging.

The speed training was found to cut long-term dementia risk by 33 percent among those asked to complete 10 hours of training in the study’s first year. The other types of training had no significant effect.

Sub-groups of participants were asked to complete an additional four hours of training in months 11 and 35 of the study. Those who were asked to complete 11 or more hours of speed training were found to reduce their dementia risk by 48 percent over the 10-year study. Memory and reasoning training were found not to have any significant effect on dementia risk.

“Clearly, the time spent on effective brain training has potential long-lasting benefits for many aspects of older adults’ lives,” said Dr. Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida in a statement announcing these latest ACTIVE study results.

The computerized speed training pushes a user to progressively improve the visual speed of processing, with attentional demands at both the center of gaze and periphery. It is now exclusively licensed to Posit Science Corporation, and a web version is available as the “Double Decision” exercise of the BrainHQ.com brain training program.

Related: Holding onto Mom After Alzheimer’s

“This type of exercise has been shown to improve various measures of speed, attention, and memory, as well as quality of life, across many different studies,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, in a release. “It targets elemental sensory systems of the brain, where a split-second improvement can serve you well during every waking hour of every day.”

Early Signs of Alzheimer's
  • Memory loss that disrupts life
  • Challenges with planning or solving problems
  • Difficulty with familiar tasks
  • Confusion with time or place
  • New problems with words
  • Decreased or poor judgment
  • Misplacing things
  • Changes in mood, personality
Source: http://www.alz.org

Previously published results from the ACTIVE Study showed participants in speed training also improved at measures of brain processing speed and at measures of tasks related to independent living. They also did better than the control group at measures of mood, confidence, health, and driving.

The ACTIVE Study comes on the heels of another study last week that looked at the benefits of exercising both the brain and the body. Both appear to have an impact, according to the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas.

The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that healthy adults who participated in cognitive training demonstrated positive changes in executive brain function as well as a 7.9 percent increase in global brain flow. That’s compared to study counterparts who participated in an aerobic exercise program.

The aerobic exercise group showed increases in immediate and delayed memory performance that were not seen in the cognitive training group.

“Many adults without dementia experience slow, continuous, and significant age-related changes in the brain, specifically in the areas of memory and executive function, such as planning and problem-solving,” said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, study lead author, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, and Dee Wyly, a distinguished university professor, in a statement about the study.

“We can lose 1 to 2 percent in global brain blood flow every decade, starting in our 20s. To see almost an 8 percent increase in brain blood flow in the cognitive training group may be seen as regaining decades of brain health since blood flow is linked to neural health.”

For the study, 36 sedentary adults ages 56 to 75 years were randomized into either a cognitive training or a physical training group. Each group took part in training three hours per week over 12 weeks. Neurocognitive, physiological, and MRI data were taken before, during, and after their training.

The cognitive group's training focused on three executive functions: strategic attention (prioritizing brain resources); integrative reasoning (synthesizing information at a deeper level); and innovation (encouraging fluid thinking, diverse perspective-taking, and problem solving).

The physical training group completed three, 60-minute sessions per week that included five minutes of warm-up and cool-down, with 50 minutes of walking on a treadmill or cycling on a stationary bike while maintaining up to 75 percent of maximum heart rate.

"Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways," said a study co-author.

"Most people tell me they want a better memory and notice memory changes as they get older," said Dr. Mark D'Esposito, the study's co-author and a professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, in a release.

"While memory is important, executive functions such as decision-making and the ability to synthesize information are equally, if not more so, but we often take them for granted. The takeaway: Aerobic activity and reasoning training are both valuable tools that give your brain a boost in different ways."

The findings are encouraging, said Dr. Laura DeFina, chief executive officer of The Cooper Institute in Dallas and a study collaborator.

"We know physical activity can lead to improved fitness levels. Higher fitness has been shown to result in less all-cause dementia with aging," DeFina said in a statement. "The study highlights the benefit of training both the body and the brain, as both produce observable benefits. The initial findings are encouraging."

Last Modified: July 25, 2016, 5:50 pm

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