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Train Your Brain Now to Avoid Cognitive Failures in the Future
Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell -- Psychologist
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ
Friday, May 17, 2024


The “use it or lose it” adage is more imperative than ever as the world’s population ages and brain power and dementia increase in importance.

Photo by ALAN DE LA CRUZ on Unsplash

A major healthcare problem is the skyrocketing number of older people around the world, along with the rising rates of cognitive impairment and dementia in this group. So, improvements in technology-based games and cognitive interventions are becoming increasingly important for maintaining and improving the cognitive function of older people.

More than 55 million people around the world have dementia right now, and more than 60% of them live in low- and middle-income countries. Almost 10 million new cases happen every year.

Adults over 60 are more likely to have cognitive loss as they get older, and the number of people in this age group who have diseases that damage brain cells, like Alzheimer’s disease and mild cognitive impairment, is increasing. These brain problems make it harder for older people to socialize and enjoy life and cost money for families and health care systems. Worldwide concern, therefore, centers around finding effective means of helping those who may develop serious cognitive impairments. These treatments, or efforts, are known as brain training. But are they effective?

The question of efficacy has merit, but there are differences in how techniques are evaluated or even described. Two scientific groups released open letters in 2014 discussing the effectiveness of “brain games” and other brain-training methods for enhancing cognitive abilities. Brain games do not offer a scientifically supported methods to enhance cognitive performance or prevent cognitive decline, according to the first letter, a consensus declaration from an international group of over 70 scientists.

Several months later, a coalition of 133 researchers and practitioners worldwide argued that the scientific literature provides ample evidence supporting brain training for a wide range of everyday and cognitive tasks. But the real answer to the question of whether brain training is helpful or not should be whether it’s good for us, individually.

It all boils down to specifics. Many of the arguments and disagreements seem to be caused by scientists asking the wrong questions. As an example, the current paradigm is based on population health and study methods that look at group averages, but most of us want to know if something is right for us. Averages aren’t helpful to us, even if they may be impressive.

Testing of computer tools does not seem to work. Studies with people 80 and older using electronic devices failed to indicate that those using the devices and those in a control group were any different in terms of remembering or thinking. Others have replicated these studies; therefore, they are more likely to be accurate in their assessment.

The Federal Trade Commission has taken action to against some app and game developers for making claims it did not believe were true. The regulatory body fined several companies in 2016 and told them to get rid of any false statements in their marketing.

Today, however, aren't we still seeing apps that claim to be effective in brain training? I would suppose there must be a provision somewhere in their literature indicating this may not be true for all individuals. We've seen that on various medications, such as those for weight loss.

Consider one well-known fact here. Training on specific tests may make you better on those tests, but that does not necessarily transfer to other aspects of your life. You can become a better test taker.

I remember having to take the Miller Analogies Test as part of my GRE entrance requirements for New York University. I bought a prep book and quickly learned the secret to solving analogies. I became quite good at it, but did that mean that I would be good at solving some other types of problems? We will leave that one unanswered.

Brain-training interventions are shown to improve performance on the trained tasks but not so much on closely related tasks. There is also not much evidence that training improves performance on tasks that are not related at all or on everyday cognitive performance.

But what about brain exercises? Reviews and meta-analyses looked at how computerized cognitive training and non-immersive VR (action video games) affected the brain function of healthy older people. The training might help with memory, focus, spatial awareness, speed of thinking, and executive function. For example, playing non-immersive VR Nintendo Wii sports games for 30 to 45 minutes could slightly improve the speaking fluency of healthy older people. Another study found that long-term treatments like Big Brain Academy or Brain Age took place for one month and did not improve older adults’ overall cognitive function. However, they did improve their executive function and processing speed.

Are there things besides brain-training specific programs that might help maintain or improve cognition in older adults (or anyone)? Yes, there are, and they include:

Mindfulness — Mindfulness meditators who did it regularly for a long time had more gray matter in the parts of their brain that handle attention and visual information.

CBT — Brain training based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people better manage their emotions and make decisions. This makes it a way to improve brain function.

Lumosity — The ability of older adults to think and reason was changed by luminosity. Many people improve their memory and focus after six months of regular use.

N-Back — The fact that dual n-back training made thinking and working memory better says that it may also help other brain parts.

Dancing — There is some proof that dance interventions might be a good way to help older people keep or improve their cognitive abilities. There are probably a lot of different ways that dancing affects your mind.

Making use of more than one method — When using different brain training techniques like dual n-back tasks and mindfulness meditation, your brain may benefit overall. You should also take care of your body and eat well for the health of your brain. Get enough rest and work out daily.

One thing to keep in mind is that “workoutsdon’t need to be exhaustive or down on the floor. Go to the rehab guys, I think, do a good job for anyone with limitations or older who needs exercises tailored to their needs.

OK, now, get busy training at your own pace in your preferred way.

Website: www.drfarrell.net

Author's page: http://amzn.to/2rVYB0J

Medium page: https://medium.com/@drpatfarrell

Twitter: @drpatfarrell

Attribution of this material is appreciated.

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D.
Title: Licensed Psychologist
Group: Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, Ph.D., LLC
Dateline: Tenafly, NJ United States
Cell Phone: 201-417-1827
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