NIH Brain Training Study Is on Time’s 2016 List of New Scientific Discoveries

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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brain training study on Time's list of new discoveries

A decade-long study evaluating the impact of a brain training exercise on dementia, often associated with Alzheimer’s disease, was selected to be part of Time magazine’s 100 New Scientific Discoveries of 2016.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded ACTIVE study led to the development of an exercise that was later acquired by Posit Science.

The exercise, Double Decision, is commercially available in the BrainHQ brain training platform.

The 10-year ACTIVE study (NCT00298558) is the “most rigorous study” to ever investigate cognitive training and aging, according to Time. The study was independently run by researchers from six institutions.

The study was based on previous NIH-funded efforts in the 1980s, when researchers Karlene Ball and Daniel Roenker investigated the basic brain science of visual speed and attention. At the time, their findings were not obviously linked to the onset of dementia, but over 15 years showed that training the brain could indeed improve cognitive brain function.

The NIH began working on the ACTIVE study, requesting a gold-standard clinical trial to assess the long-term effects of cognitive training on function.

The trial recruited 2,832 healthy older participants, dividing them into three arms (reflecting the three different theories of what is more important for cognitive function and aging: reasoning training, memory training, and speed of processing training,) and a fourth control arm.

On average, study participants were 74 years old when they first entered the trial and 84 when the trial ended. Participants were asked to complete two weekly hours of training for five weeks. About half were asked to complete an additional four hours of weekly training in the study’s 11th and 35th months.

People in the study were also studied for health, cognitive and behavioral measures at time points leading through year 10.

Results from the study first indicated that there was indeed an intervention that could successfully lower the risk of dementia, and were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in July 2016.

At the conference, researchers showed how the speed processing group had shown a significantly lower incidence of dementia — 33 percent less — compared to the control group.

In addition, those in the speed processing group who were asked to do the extra sessions had a 48 percent decreased risk of dementia. The other groups showed no significantly different incidence of dementia when compared to the controls.

This was the first time a training exercise was ever shown to significantly impact the risk of dementia, Time noted.

“The Time magazine award calls out a model story of how public/private partnerships can work to advance human health,” Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, said in a press release.

“We are now pursuing our plan to obtain regulatory clearance to offer brain training to address the risk of cognitive decline associated with dementia,” he said. “And this is just the tip of the spear of what this new type of digital therapeutic can do – not only to address a host of brain diseases and cognitive disorders, but also to improve human performance in nearly every aspect of life.”