With the aging baby boomer population, improving health and longevity are key concerns for this population. This has sparked a great deal of research into various aspects of health, especially cognitive health, over time.
One of the leading research areas for cognitive health is brain training. Exercises such as crosswords, Sudoku and similar mental activities can be beneficial for slowing cognitive decline or improving cognitive function. However, not all activities are equal and a recent study determined an effective mind "workout". It could be used by people of all ages, but those over 60 can derive most benefits from it as a way of preventing dementia.
The study involved researchers from Kennedy Krieger Institute and Johns Hopkins University. The team of researchers compared two methods designed to improve a person’s working memory. This type of memory is similar to a workspace where a person stores information temporarily. An example of this memory would be a person who needs to remember directions to a specific location. That person has to remember the directions until they reach that location, but may not turn the directions into long-term memory. This type of memory is easy to lose over time, especially in elderly populations.
In order to find out which method offers more efficiency, the team of researchers had 136 adults spend a month training their brains for 30 minutes every day and five days of the week. The first group completed a complex span test which involved trying to remember the location of items with distractions. The second group used a dual n-back game. As a way of comparing the effectiveness of two methods, the groups were asked to recall items that they had seen.
While both groups showed some improvement in memory, the n-back training was recognized as significantly more effective. People who used this method demonstrated an impressive 30% improvement regarding their working memory. In comparison, the complex span training method resulted in 15% improvement, which is half as much.
In addition to the improvement, the n-back group showed an increase in brain activity. Using electrodes to measure brain waves, researchers found that the brain waves in an area which plays a role in attention and memory were increased.
Researchers have been excited about their findings, but still offered caution to individuals using these programs. Since this is a new area of study, the commercial brain training programs need more research and trials before such programs will be officially approved and recognized as preventive measure for dementia.