Last fall, I wrote about participating in Brain Test Britain, an online trial of brain fitness training. The trial was designed to test whether brain training improves general memory and thinking.
The more than 11,000 people who completed the six week online study were divided into three groups:
- Group 1 - trained on tasks emphasizing reasoning, planning and problem-solving
- Group 2 - trained on tasks emphasizing short-term memory, attention, visuo-spatial processing and math (these tasks were designed to be similar to commercially available brain fitness programs)
- Control Group – simply answered questions from six categories after looking up answers online if necessary, so didn’t actually train (turns out I was in the control group).
There is a possible exception to these findings: participants 60 and over in Groups 1 and 2 did actually show a small improvement in memory and thinking over the control group. The researchers are asking participants in this age group (who have a higher risk of developing dementia), to continue training until they’ve completed a full year. It will be interesting to see what that data shows.
Some things to think about:
- Maybe the training wasn’t long enough to see general results – participants were asked to train a minimum of ten minutes three times per week for six weeks. Other studies, for example, the more positive IMPACT study, involved more training.
- It’s possible that brain training is effective for older adults only
- This study doesn't address whether brain training is effective for people who have memory loss (participants were “healthy” adults)
- Maybe we should be encouraged that participants showed improvements on the tasks they trained on. This supports preliminary research on cognitive rehabilitation that suggests people with early stage Alzheimer’s can improve their performance on specific tasks.