Study results to be published in the April 4, 2009 edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society are the first to show definitively that computerized brain exercises can improve memory and attention in older adults. An advance copy of the breakthrough study led by researchers from the University of Southern California and the Mayo Clinic has been released online.
A total of 487 healthy adults over the age of 65 participated in the randomized controlled trial, called the IMPACT Study. Half were assigned to a group that trained on a brain fitness software program for a total of 40 hours over the course of 8 weeks. The other half spent an equal amount of time learning from educational lectures on the computer followed by quizzes.
The study found that participants who trained on the software, The Brain Fitness Program™ from Posit Science®, more than doubled their processing speed, with an average increase of 131%. They also saw gains on standard measures of memory and attention of 10 years, on average. These changes were big enough that participants reported significant improvements in every day activities (such as remembering names or understanding conversations in noisy restaurants). The gains of the brain exercise group were clinically significant; the gains of the lecture group were significantly smaller and not clinically significant.
The Brain Fitness Program was developed by a global team of neuroscientists for Posit Science. It consists of six exercises done on a computer. The product is based on the science of brain plasticity – the ability of the brain to change and form new pathways in response to the right stimulation delivered in the right way.
Marlene Allen, aged 75, of Mill Valley, California participated in the brain exercise half of the study. "Now I don't have to write down shopping lists. I remember what I need at the store," Ms. Allen said. "And I almost never walk into a room and forget why anymore."
While some earlier studies have shown older adults get better at exercises that they practice, this study goes two steps further. The improvements at the exercises resulted in gains in standard measures of memory and attention and people noticed improvements in their every day activities.
"The changes we saw in the experimental group were remarkable – and significantly larger than the gains in the control group," said Liz Zelinski, PhD, a principal investigator for the study from the University of Southern California. "From a researcher's point of view, this was very impressive because people got better at the tasks trained, those improvements generalized to standardized measures of memory and people noticed improvements in their lives. What this means is that cognitive decline is no longer an inevitable part of aging. Doing properly designed cognitive activities can enhance our abilities as we age."
"We saw gains of 4% in memory scores in the brain exercise group," said Glenn Smith, PhD, the study's principal investigator from the Mayo Clinic. "That may not sound like much, but it is about what an older person normally loses in a 10 year period. The lectures group saw about a 2% gain, which may sound like they did half as well; however, we look at memory on a curve, not a straight line, and a 2% gain is not something you are apt to notice in your life."
"This study has profound personal and public implications for aging baby boomers and their parents," said Joe Coughlin, PhD, Director of the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute Technology. "This means boomers may now have tools for a future that is not their grandfather's old age. It also impacts most aspects of independent living – from aging-in-place to transportation to all the great and little things that we call life. This is big news for aging and for all of us."
The IMPACT study is the largest study ever of a brain fitness program that is available to the public and the first published in a medical journal to show improvements in memory and attention.