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Can brain training help people with mild cognitive impairment?

Created date

March 22nd, 2018

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) can signal the first stages of a dementia-related illness such as Alzheimer’s disease. There have been previous studies on whether games or other brain activities can help stave off mental decline in healthy people, but now a new study by Canadian researchers shows that people with MCI may be able to actually learn new information, which may help reverse the process of cognitive decline.

For this study, the scientists recruited 145 older adults with MCI. The participants were divided into three groups. Group 1 received cognitive training designed to improve memory and attention span. Group 2 received guidance on how to develop a positive outlook on life and improve their well-being. Group 3 was a control group.

The payoff

The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, showed that Group 1 improved their memory scores by 35%–40%. In addition, they were able to maintain their scores for six months after the completion of eight weeks of training. Groups 2 and 3 did not experience cognitive improvement.

One of the reasons Group 1 experienced lasting benefits may be that participants continued to use the skills they were taught during the training in their daily lives. These skills included using associations to remember shopping lists and calling up visual images to recall names of new people.

Today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 15% to 20% million Americans over age 65 are affected by MCI. Early intervention using techniques such as cognitive training may help improve quality of life and slow progression to dementia-related illness.