Could an App Help Prevent Dementia?

Studies have shown that 8.8 percent of Americans 65 and older struggle with dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And in 2017, the Alzheimer’s Association estimated that Alzheimer’s and other dementias would account for more than $259 in health care spending. But what if an app could help to decrease people’s risk of those conditions in the first place? As mHealth Intelligence and CBS News first reported, a decade-long study conducted at the University of South Florida (USF) found a nearly 30 percent decrease in risk of dementia among people who used an app designed to “train their brain.” The results, published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, are inspiring optimism among dementia researchers. “The fact that a computerized cognitive training program for speed of processing has the potential to impact dementia onset is an incredibly important finding that may provide hope to those concerned about developing dementia in the later years of life,” Adam Woods, the assistant director of the Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory at the University of Florida, told CBS.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded study involved 2,800 seniors in good health whom researchers divided into four groups. While one group received no interventions, participants in one were trained in verbal memory improvement, participants in another worked on reasoning and problem solving, and a fourth group received six weeks of training in what researchers termed “speed-of-thought processing training” using a highly specialized mobile program called BrainHQ. The results? Over a decade, while participants who received the first two types of training showed no decrease in their risk of developing dementia, those in the BrainHQ group were 29 percent less likely to develop the condition.

“Everyone with a brain is at risk of dementia,” the study’s lead author Jerri Edwards, a professor at the University of South Florida, told CBS, noting also that the intervention used in her team’s study “is the first treatment ever shown in a clinical trial to make a difference” in lowering risk of dementia. For their part, the Alzheimer’s Association expressed optimism. “This is the first time a cognitive training intervention has been shown to protect against cognitive impairment or dementia in a large, randomized, controlled trial,” Heather Snyder, the Alzheimer’s Association’s senior director of medical and scientific operations, told CBS News. She and others also urged additional research on speed-of-processing training, including studies seeking to replicate the findings of the USF researchers.

Click here to read the mHealth Intelligence article on the dementia study.

Click here to read the dementia study results from Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.

Click here to read the CBS News article on the dementia study.

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