If you’re looking for tips to fend off dementia, you might just be in luck.
That’s because there’s a mind exercise game you can play that may reduce your chances of developing the disease, according to a new study published in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions last week.
For the mental exercise, users are asked to identify objects in the middle of the screen, as well as other disapearing objects on the sides, the Indiana University School of Medicine wrote. The game then changes the rate of the flashing objects and the overall difficulty based on how well the user is performing.
Here’s a screenshot of a “Double Decision” game from BrainHQ, which has subscription prices that range from $8 to $14 a month, CBS Pittsburgh reported.
It’s known as a “speed of processing” exercise, and that’s exactly the type of mental game that can help prevent someone from developing dementia, said Frederick W. Unverzagt, a professor at Indiana University and a researcher on the study.
“Our understanding is that the type of processing used for that training operates through (a) different memory system. There’s an explicit memory system and a procedural system,” he said. “The explicit system is conscious learning, like being in a classroom, listening to content come in, drilling on it, trying to retain it.
“The speed of processing system is procedural. You get better at something by dint of doing it – over and over and over again. It is a different network of brain regions that are involved, and it may be that is part of the puzzle. And it may be that the adaptive part of the training – the part that’s like a computer game – interacts with that.”
The study backs up Unverzagt’s statements.
In it, researchers put 2,802 people over the age of 65 from various places through four different types of exercises. One group had instructions on “strategies to improve memory of life events and activities,” Indiana University wrote, while another focused on strategies regarding problem solving.
A third group played the computer-based speed of processing game on touchscreens, while the fourth did not perform any mental exercises as a part of the program.
Within a six-week period, there were ten one-hour sessions given to the participants, some of whom received additional exercises, the researchers wrote.
Ten years after the initial training, the subjects were looked at by researchers to see if any developed dementia, and 260 of them had, according to the study. Only one group had a significantly lower chance of developing dementia than other groups — the one that played the speed of processing game, with a 29 percent less chance when compared to the group that received no training.
It’s been exciting news for many.
The Alzheimer’s Association believes "this is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial,” Heather Snyder, a senior director at the organization, told CBS.
However, there’s reason to be cautious about the findings, which researchers say need to be replicated.
In technical terms, a study must have a p-value at .05 or less to be statistically significant, meaning that the results likely didn’t happen by chance, according to Science Alert. And this study has a p-value of 0.049, so it barely made the cut-off.
But there’s also another potential problem, as pointed out by Science Alert — those in the study had to self-report their dementia, potentially skewing the results.
“It’s positive that this study compared several types of brain training and was both long term and large scale in nature,” said Doug Brown, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Society. “However, as it relied on self-reporting of dementia in many cases rather than a robust clinical diagnosis, the results should be interpreted with caution.”
But even if the study is flawed, Brown added, there are some interesting things that can be learned from it.
“Interestingly, only speed training but not memory or reasoning training showed any significant effect on the likelihood of developing dementia,” he said, “meaning we can’t assume all brain training programs will work in the same way.”