DEMENTIA risk is substantially reduced in older adults if they receive computerised speed of processing training, a method previously shown to be effective in improving cognitive abilities, according to researchers from the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA. This is the first interventional strategy found to result in a risk reduction, making these results exceptionally exciting.
In the 10-year study, named ACTIVE, the team randomised 2,802 healthy older adults (average age at start of study: 74 years) at six sites across the USA into four groups: a control group, a group that received instruction on memory strategies, another that received instruction on reasoning strategies, and finally a group receiving individualised, computerised speed of processing training. All participants were assessed on cognitive and functional measures at the start of the study, at Week 6, and at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 years. In the three interventional groups, subsets of participants received four extra training sessions at Months 11 and 35.
Participants in the speed training processing group took part in divided and selective attention exercises to improve the speed and accuracy of their visual attention. To enhance their divided attention skills, individuals in this cohort were required to locate a peripheral object, such as a car or a truck, whilst identifying an object at the centre of their gaze (i.e., a car), with the speed of presentation becoming increasingly briefer following correct answers. To improve selective attention, the peripheral targets were in some cases obscured by distracting objects.
It was found that the group receiving speed of processing training had, on average, a 29% lower risk of dementia compared with the control group. Additionally, completing more speed of processing sessions corresponded with a progressively lower risk of dementia. It was also shown that the memory and strategy-based training groups had a similar dementia incidence rate to the control group. In participants who completed 15 or more sessions across the three intervention groups, the incidence of dementia in the computerised speed training group, the memory-based training group, and the reasoning-based training group was 5.9%, 9.7%, and 10.1%, respectively, while the rate in the control group was 10.8%.
“We need to further delineate what makes some computerised cognitive training effective, while other types are not,” commented lead author Dr Jerri Edwards, University of South Florida. “We also need to investigate what is the appropriate amount of training to get the best results.”
The researchers are currently investigating this method in Parkinson’s disease patients in addition to other cognitive intervention strategies.
James Coker, Senior Editorial Assistant