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Mental exercises can benefit everyday life

A recent large-scale study has suggested that regularly doing mental exercises and online brain training can have a beneficial effect in helping to improve the memory and reasoning skills for older people.



The study, one of the largest of its kind, was conducted by researchers at King’s College London. About 7,000 people over the age of 50 were involved in the six-month experiment, originally launched and designed by BBC TV’s Bang Goes The Theory team. The BBC worked with the Alzheimer’s Society that funded the project and the Medical Research Council to recruit volunteers from the general population aged 50 and over.

When the volunteers signed up to take part in the experiment they underwent a screening process to ensure that none had any cognitive deficits or problems with memory. The researchers then split the volunteers up into different groups, with each group being subjected to different medically recognised cognitive tests. The subjects were initially tested at baseline and then again at three and six month periods so that any differences or cognitive improvements could be noted.

A group of the volunteers were asked to play online brain training games for 10 minutes at a time, as often or as little as they wished throughout the study, whereas others were asked to carry out simple internet searches.

The brain training comprised of a number of different tasks, including reasoning tasks such as balancing weights on a see-saw and problem solving tasks such as putting numbered objects in numerical order.

There were notable improvements in the memory of those that regularly played online brain training games. The volunteers that took part in the mental exercises at least five times a week for 10 minutes at a time kept their broader cognitive skills better than those who did not.

There were also substantial benefits for the older volunteers that played the online games. The people in the study group that were over the age of 60 reported better results when carrying our everyday tasks such as shopping, cooking or navigating public transport.

There are expected to be longer, more large-scale studies carried out on the issue of cognitive development and maintenance, some of which are now beginning.  Researchers at King’s College have already begun conducting a large trial to see whether doing metal exercises could prevent the development of dementia.

Combined with results from other studies, scientists have concluded that brain training is only beneficial for people over the age of 50.

Dr Doug Brown from the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do. While this study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we’re excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks.”

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