Are ‘Brain Training’ Games The Key To Slowing Memory Decline And Reducing Dementia Risk?

If you’re the type who often downloads games from mobile app stores, you may be familiar with the term “brain training game” — these refer to word or puzzle games that are advertised as a good way to improve one’s brain power and vocabulary. But they could be more than just that, as a group of scientists believes that their newly-designed brain training app could help improve episodic memory in those suffering from mild cognitive impairment.

According to Medical News Today, a team of researchers from the University of Cambridge developed the brain training app called Game Show, which supposedly helps people suffering from amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) by enhancing their cognitive skills and motivation. This condition is said to be a “potential precursor” to actual dementia, and its classical symptoms may include episodes of forgetfulness and a lack of motivation toward doing certain tasks.

Medical News Today adds that Game Show lives up to its name by asking players to join a game show, where the objective is to properly match geometric patterns with their corresponding location. It doesn’t appear to be similar to the usual game shows you see on television in terms of subject matter, but players do win in-game currency for choosing the right pattern association. Additionally, the brain training game tends to become more complex as players get more skilled, thus potentially keeping them motivated to push forward.

To determine the efficacy of the new brain training app, the researchers, who were led by Dr. George Savulich, took 42 participants aged 45-years-old and above and suffering from aMCI, and had them take part in a randomized controlled trial. The subjects were then divided into two groups – a cognitive training group, where participants would play the brain training game on an iPad for eight hours over a four-week timeframe, as well as a control group, where they would visit the clinic but not play the game.

After putting each subject through a battery of cognitive tests, as well as tests to detect their levels of apathy and enjoyment, the researchers discovered that those who were in the cognitive training group improved their memory score by about 40 percent. These subjects were also able to identify previously-shown locations correctly, proving that the game did help improve their episodic memory, or the ability to retain memories and details about earlier episodes or events in their lives.

According to Savulich, the participants in the cognitive training group were able to benefit from the brain training game in other ways, such as an increased motivation to keep on playing.

“Patients found the game interesting and engaging and felt motivated to keep training throughout the eight hours. We hope to extend these findings in future studies of healthy aging and mild Alzheimer’s disease.”

Professor Barbara Sahakian, who co-invented the game, was also quoted as saying that the study proves brain training games could be a useful tool in improving a person’s brain health, but such apps need to be “based on sound research and developed with patients.”

“It also needs to be enjoyable enough to motivate users to keep to their programs. Our game allowed us to individualize a patient’s cognitive training program and make it fun and enjoyable for them to use.”

As PsychCentral noted, Game Show isn’t the first such brain training game to effectively improve the memory of patients suffering from certain conditions. Two years ago, Sahakian was part of a group of researchers who discovered that another iPad game, which is also available on the Google Play Store for Android device owners, worked well in improving the memory of schizophrenia patients and helping them live more normal lives.

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