Findings from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) Study, which followed 2,802 healthy older adults for 10 years, has found that those who participated in computer training designed to improve processing speed and visual attention had a 29% lower risk of developing dementia compared to controls, with more training producing lower risk. Those who received instruction in memory or reasoning strategies showed no change in dementia risk.
Participants were randomly placed into a control group or one of three different cognitive training groups. One was instructed in memory strategies, another in reasoning strategies, and one was given individualized, computerized speed of processing training.
There were 10 initial sessions of training, each 60 to 75 minutes, over six weeks. Participants were assessed at the beginning of the study, after the first six weeks, and at one, two, three, five, and 10 years. Some of each group received four additional “booster” training sessions in months 11 and 35.
Among those who completed the most sessions (5 or more booster sessions), indicators of dementia were evident in 5.9% of the computerized speed training group; 9.7% of the memory strategy group; 10.1% of the reasoning strategy group. The control group had a dementia incidence rate of 10.8%.
14% of those who received no training developed dementia in the next 10 years, compared with 12.1% of those who received the initial processing speed training, and 8.2% of those who also received the additional booster training.
A decade after training began, the scientists found that 22.7% of people in the speed training group had dementia, compared with 24.2% in both memory and reasoning groups. In a control group of people who had no training, the dementia rate was 28.8%. This effect is greater than the protection offered by antihypertensive medications against major cardiovascular events.
It's suggested that some of the reason for this effect may be that the training builds up brain reserve, perhaps by improving brain efficiency, or in some way improving the health of brain tissue.
Some of the participants told researchers that the training encouraged them to enroll in classes at a local college or keep driving, and it’s possible that the motivational boost for continued social and intellectual engagement might also help explain the benefits.
Other research has found that processing speed training is associated with a lower risk of depression and improved physical function, as well as better everyday functioning.
The processing speed training was designed to improve the speed and accuracy of visual attention, with both divided and selective attention exercises. To perform the divided attention training task, participants identified a central object—such as a truck—while simultaneously locating a target in the periphery—the car. The speed of these objects became increasingly faster as participants mastered each set. In the more difficult training tasks, adding distracting objects made the task even more challenging, thus engaging selective attention.
The training program is available as the “Double Decision” exercise in the BrainHQ.com commercial product.
Of the 1220 who completed the 10-year follow-up, 260 developed dementia during the period.