An article on Science Daily talked about a science publication by researchers from Florida State University who examined how technology is being used by senior citizens. The researchers refer to computer-based brain fitness programs and make the following statement:

“There is limited but encouraging evidence that these so-called brain fitness software packages make a difference in improving some basic skills, but so far there is little evidence that they improve older adults’ quality of life or ability to live independently. That should be the measure of success in evaluating these programs.”

The full article can be accessed here: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091022153637.htm.

I was frustrated to read that these researchers were unaware of the growing body of research clearly illustrating that well-designed programs can have a large impact on daily living.  In particular, the exercises contained in BrainHQ have been subjected to large controlled clinical trials and the results have been impressive. Here is a summary:

BrainHQ

  • Reduces at-fault crash rate by 51% (Ball, Edwards et al. 2009).
  • Reduces dangerous maneuvers by 36% and improved reaction times (Roenker, Cissell et al. 2003).
  • Reduces risk of driving cessation by 40% (Edwards, Delahunt et al. 2009).
  • Maintains driving distance and driving in difficult situations (Edwards, Myers et al. 2009).
  • Helps maintain instrumental activities of daily living (e.g., shopping, finances) (Willis, Tennstedt et al. 2006)
  • Improves speed daily activities such as finding items in a cupboard, counting change (Edwards, Wadley et al. 2005).
  • Reduces declines in health related quality of life (Wolinsky, Unverzagt et al. 2006).
  • Reduces risk of depression onset (Wolinsky, Mahncke et al. 2009).
  • Reduced medical expenditures (Wolinsky, Mahncke et al. 2009).
  • More than doubles auditory speed of processing (Mahncke, Connor et al. 2006)
  • Improves memory by more than 10 years on average (Smith, Housen et al. 2009)
  • Provides noticeable improvements in everyday memory performance (Smith, Housen et al. 2009)

The academic community is increasingly acknowledging the effectiveness of these programs but some researchers are still unaware of the results. I am currently working on a review paper examining the published evidence and I hope to submit it for publication in the coming weeks. One of the goals is to help educate academics who are still unfamiliar with this exciting work.

References

Ball, K., J. Edwards, et al. (2009). The Effects of Training on Driving Competence – Crash Risk. Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting. Washington DC, USA.

Edwards, J. D., P. B. Delahunt, et al. (2009). “Cognitive Speed of Processing Training Delays Driving Cessation.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci.

Edwards, J. D., C. Myers, et al. (2009). “The Longitudinal Impact of Cognitive Speed of Processing Training on Driving Mobility.” Gerontologist.

Edwards, J. D., V. G. Wadley, et al. (2005). “The impact of speed of processing training on cognitive and everyday performance.” Aging Ment Health 9(3): 262-271.

Mahncke, H. W., B. B. Connor, et al. (2006). “Memory enhancement in healthy older adults using a brain plasticity-based training program: a randomized, controlled study.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 103(33): 12523-12528.

Roenker, D. L., G. M. Cissell, et al. (2003). “Speed-of-processing and driving simulator training result in improved driving performance.” Hum Factors 45(2): 218-233.

Smith, G. E., P. Housen, et al. (2009). “A cognitive training program based on principles of brain plasticity: results from the Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training (IMPACT) study.” J Am Geriatr Soc 57(4): 594-603.

Willis, S. L., S. L. Tennstedt, et al. (2006). “Long-term effects of cognitive training on everyday functional outcomes in older adults.” JAMA 296(23): 2805-2814.

Wolinsky, F. D., H. W. Mahncke, et al. (2009). “The ACTIVE cognitive training trial and predicted medical expenditures.”BMC Health Serv Res 9: 109.

Wolinsky, F. D., H. W. Mahncke, et al. (2009). “The ACTIVE Cognitive Training Interventions and the Onset of and Recovery from Suspected Clinical Depression.” J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci.

Wolinsky, F. D., F. W. Unverzagt, et al. (2006). “The ACTIVE cognitive training trial and health-related quality of life: protection that lasts for 5 years.” J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 61(12): 1324-1329.