USF Researching Computer Brain Games That Reduce Risk Of Dementia

Aug 9, 2018

Researchers at the University of South Florida say reducing your risk of dementia can be a mouse click away.  

Health News Florida's Julio Ochoa spoke with USF professor Jerri Edwards about computer brain games they've studied and others they're testing now.

Can you start by telling us about your original dementia study, which was published in 2016?

We had very exciting findings. We found the first intervention shown in a randomized clinical trial to reduce risk of dementia among healthy older adults.

There was a computerized intervention that we call ‘cognitive speed of processing training.’ And the study was a multi-site national study and involved 3,000 older adults that were 65 and older when they entered the study and we actually followed them for 10 years and we found after that time period that those who are randomized to this particular type of computerized training were up to 48 percent less likely to be diagnosed with dementia later on.

So it's a computer program, right?

Yes. It was actually compared to two other kinds of training that that one might think would be more related such as memory training. It was found to be the most efficacious.

What type of computer program are we talking about?

We're primarily targeting your visual attention. So the aim is to improve how quickly you can take in information. So one of the things that happens to us with age, and even as early as 25, is we start to slow down mentally. This particular program tries to speed us back up and improve how much information we can process very quickly.

So in the exercise, you watch a computer screen and see visual stimuli. And they're presented very briefly. And we decrease the speed at which they're presented or how long you see them and increase the complexity of the information. And as we do that, your brain gets faster.

How long does someone have to use this computer program to be able to show these kinds of results?

In that particular study, it was up to 18 hours of the training.

Does everybody experience these kinds of benefits?

That's a good question. I don't know that we know the answer. I would say that most of the people randomized to the computerized speed of processing training, about 87 percent, we saw benefits.

How long do the results last?

There is a small diminishing of the effects that we see, but we still see that people who did even just 10 hours of the training at baseline are still performing better, having better mental quickness 10 years later.

Should everybody be doing this?

Well, I think that it's a very good idea at 50 years of age to start using brain training programs that have been found to be efficacious and randomized clinical trials.

Can we find this computer program online?

You can. This particular exercise is now marketed as part of a program called (Double Decision) at BrainHQ.com.

Or if you're local in Tampa Bay, you can participate in our research. We're looking for older adults 60 and above who would be willing to come to the USF Tampa campus and participate in our studies, all of which are aimed at reducing risk of dementia and improving brain function.

What studies could they take part in?

So we have a new study funded by the Retirement Research Foundation and we're calling it "Get Your Mind Moving." We are examining a new version of the intervention we previously found to reduce dementia risk.

So an interesting thing about the computerized speed of processing training program is that it has also been shown to improve gait, speed and balance and to reduce risk of falls. And that's really fascinating because it's just a computer exercise training your brain, but yet it has these everyday implications for your balance.

So this new version we have incorporated movement into the exercises. And so the goal is to not only improve brain speed to have greater improvements in your motor function and gait, speed and balance.

Are you working on anything else?

Yes. We also have a very exciting study that is funded by the National Institute on Aging to examine the effects of music training among older adults.

So there is very interesting evidence that older musicians age better and they're quicker processors than those who are not musicians. And so this is the first very large-scale randomized clinical trial to see in an experiment if music training will improve older adults' abilities.

So you're looking for volunteers for that?

We are.

And you're going to train them how to play an instrument?

So in this study, they work in groups and they will learn about music, they may learn to read music and they may learn to make music in different ways.

To inquire about taking part in one of USF's dementia studies, call (813) 974-6703.