Study Debunks 4 Common Myths about Brain Training and Lifelong Cognitive Enhancement



SOME brain training may well work to promote healthy brain

If the media is your main source of information about brain
training and cognitive enhancement, you will probably believe
the following:

1) All brain training is the same…

2) …and it simply doesn’t work.

3) Commercial brain training programs, especially,
don’t work.

4) How could they work? Genetics is destiny, aging is a
predetermined process…so by age 60 or 70 or 80, “you can’t
teach an old dog new tricks.”

If you tracked and analyzed the scientific literature around
cognitive training, cognitive therapies, biofeedback,
meditation, brain reserve and neuroplasticity in
general, you’d know those 4 beliefs are wrong.
They are myths that prevent a more nuanced conversation about
brain-enhancing lifestyles and about the emerging brain
training and neurotechnology toolkit.

Good news is, a just-published study should help debunk those
myths–especially with regards to computerized cognitive
training–and provide a better foundation to educate the
public and to shape future research, policy and innovation.

This is the study, published in Neuropsychology
Review: Enhancing
Cognitive Functioning in Healthly Older Adults: a Systematic
Review of the Clinical Significance of Commercially Available
Computerized Cognitive Training in Preventing Cognitive

And this is what the abstract says: “Successfully assisting
older adults to maintain or improve cognitive function,
particularly when they are dealing with neurodegenerative
disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), remains a major
challenge. Cognitive training may stimulate neuroplasticity
thereby increasing cognitive and brain reserve. Commercial
brain training programs are computerized, readily-available,
easy-to-administer and adaptive but often lack supportive data
and their clinical validation literature has not been
previously reviewed. Therefore, in this review, we report the
characteristics of commercially available brain training
programs, critically assess the number and quality of studies
evaluating the empirical evidence of these programs for
promoting brain health in healthy older adults, and discuss
underlying causal mechanisms…(Conclusion, bolded by
Editor). Although caution must be taken regarding
any potential bias due to selective reporting, current evidence
supports that at least some commercially available computerized
brain training products can assist in promoting healthy brain

The researchers searched the scientific literature for
randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of brain training programs
used in healthy older adults – this is important to
note, as they excluded all other populations from the search
(children, younger adults, athletes, patients with conditions
from mild cognitive decline to Alzheimer’s to stroke).

They found 244 published articles, and from that list they
selected 26 high-quality studies evaluating brain training
programs which are commercially available. Out of 18 commercial
brain training programs initially identified by the
researchers, only 7 programs had been studied in those 26
studies. (Meaning that 11 had not been subjected to the type of
scientific scrutiny–at least among healthy older adults– that
the researchers wanted to see).

They then assessed 1) the number of published clinical
trials for each of those 7 brain training programs and 2) the
methodological quality of each study, adapting
a methodology developed by Cicerone and colleagues in
2011. Programs with clinical studies were classified as
possessing Level I (higher), II (medium) or III (lower)

These were the findings:

Level I evidence (higher): Posit Science (Brain Fitness
Program; Insight), CogniFit (Personal Coach),

Level II evidence (medium): Cogmed (Cogmed QM), Nintendo
(Brain Age), My Brain Trainer

Level III evidence (lower): Dakim, Lumosity.

In summary: Even older adults in their 60s, 70s
and beyond can improve their cognitive functioning. But not all
brain training programs are the same — they vary significantly
by level of scientific evidence (and also in terms of what
exactly they do), so consumer, caregivers and professionals
should become well-informed buyers, neither buying into the
latest marketing hype nor jumping into the overgeneralized–when
not simply wrong–beliefs outlined and debunked above.

To learn more about brain training and brain fitness in

Tags: aging, brain, brain
, cognitive, cognitive training, healthy aging, neuroplasticity

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