Your thinking may slow down as you get older, but just as exercise can work wonders for your physical health, a regular workout can boost your brain, too.
In fact, the latest research reveals mental exercise heightens memory so much, seniors can go head to head with those 50 years their junior in mental recall. Mental exercise also dramatically reduces your risk of dementia as much as ten years after completing the brain workout program.
A Little Mental Training Goes a Long Way
Two years ago, the National Institutes of Health funded a major trial into the effects of mental exercise on people middle-aged and older. The clinical trial included over 2,800 cognitively healthy men and women with an average age of 73.
The results show that even minimal brain exercise performed on a weekly basis can dramatically boost memory and reduce the risk of dementia.
For instance, participants performing just ten hours of brain training using a computer game for six weeks reduced their dementia risk ten years later by an incredible 29 percent compared to those men and women who did not perform brain exercise.
In the study, the researchers used a brain game called “Double Decision.” This game aims to improve visual speed of processing – how fast a person can understand and react to the visual information they receive. This is a fundamental cognitive skill that typically slows with age.
Even more exciting, those individuals who continued training with “Double Decision” beyond six weeks received even greater improvements in memory, and, as measured a decade later, were seen to reduce their risk of dementia a whopping 45 percent.
The authors of the study wrote, “To our knowledge, this is the first study to show that any intervention (behavioral or pharmacologic) can lower risk of dementia.”
I’m not surprised by the research, considering that many natural doctors have long supported the use of brain games to improve memory and focus. We’ve reported on this topic before, and keep our readers abreast of the latest developments. These new findings are great news for those of us who have a family history of Alzheimer’s. To think that something as simple as exercising your brain on a weekly basis can dramatically reduce your risk of dementia is exciting indeed.
But it begs the question, why are brain games in particular so helpful for improving memory and preventing Alzheimer’s disease?
Researchers looked into the reasons for these remarkable benefits and this is what they found…
Challenging the Brain to Switch Tasks
In today’s plugged-in society where we always seem connected to a smart phone, a laptop or inundated with continuous media coverage of the story of the day, we’re more likely to perform two or more tasks simultaneously than ever before.
While I hope you’re focused on this article, I have to accept that you may also be listening to music, texting a friend, and checking for new emails in another browser tab all at the same time.
Some experts propose that this kind of multi-tasking has led to short attention spans among children and adults. This might be true. However, it seems that effective multi-tasking also helps stimulate thinking and memory centers in the brain that can help reduce the risk of dementia years later.
Brain Games and Multi-Tasking
Mark Steyvers led a team of cognitive scientists at the University of California, Irvine, in a study on whether brain games could help seniors multi-task more effectively.
They looked at a large number of random samples of adults aged 21 to 80 who played a computer game called “Ebb and Flow” over a five-year period, from 2012 to 2017.
In the game, a group of green or orange leaves appear on the computer screen for just a few seconds at a time.
When the green leaves appear, the arrow keys on the keyboard are used to indicate which way the leaves are pointing, regardless of the direction in which they’re moving.
For the orange leaves it’s the opposite. The arrow keys are used to indicate the direction in which the leaves are moving, not the direction they are pointing.
This challenges the ability to switch between two cognitive processes: one that interprets shape, and the other, movement. When switching between tasks, the brain suppresses one of these processes while activating the other. In short, you’re training your brain to multi-task.
Personally, I would characterize this as an exercise in focus and concentration, not multi-tasking, but I’ll defer to the researchers, who should know what they’re talking about.
You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks
The scientists compared three groups of “Ebb and Flow” players. Those that finished fewer than 60 training sessions; those aged 71 to 80 who carried out at least a thousand sessions; and very active players who trained for thousands of sessions.
Here’s the amazing results Professor Steyvers reported:
“We discovered that people in the upper age ranges who completed specific training tasks were able to beef up their brain’s ability to switch between tasks in the game at a level similar to untrained 20 and 30-year-olds
“The brain is not a muscle, but like our bodies, if we work out and train it, we can improve our mental performance. We show that with consistent upkeep, cognitive youth can be retained well into our golden years.”
Dr. Steyvors published his team’s findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in September.
These results really demonstrate that you can grow a younger brain and enjoy an ability to think and process information like someone decades younger.
If you’re interested in trying the brain games used in the clinical research, “Double Decision” is licensed exclusively to Posit Science, and the consumer version is available to the public by subscription on the BrainHQ website, www.brainhq.com. Meanwhile, “Ebb and Flow” is available by subscription on Lumosity, at www.lumosity.com.
I’d suggest incorporating these or some other simple computer brain or memory training exercises into your weekly health regimen. It seems that exercising your brain will turn out to be just as important to your quality of life as you age as exercising your body.