Bag the Brain Teasers

March 5th, 2009 | Sources: Alzheimer's and Dementia, BurrillReport

It’s fairly well established that exercise can reduce progression to full-blown dementia in elderly folks with mild memory impairment, and that Ginkgo Biloba does nothing of the sort.

How about puzzles, memory tricks and brain twisters? Can these so-called cognitively-stimulating activities prevent or delay progression of dementia?

where'smySudoku?Americans spend $80 million per year on these things, which is an astonishing 40-fold increase in just 5 years, but Peter Snyder and colleagues have just concluded there’s no evidence they work in the healthy elderly.

Truth be told however, there’s not much evidence one way or another.

Snyder’s team did find a few randomized, controlled trials of structured cognitive intervention programs in the literature, and they were negative: that is, there was no evidence they delayed or slowed progression of cognitive decline in elderly healthy people.

But all the studies had methodological problems and it was hard exclude the possibility that longer interventions might have been beneficial.

Plus, each study tested a different memory protocol so it wasn’t possible to roll-up the results into a meta-analysis which might have generated enough statistical firepower to detect something subtle.

The last meta-analysis on anything remotely relevant to the subject was published in 1992 which we think was before the Internets and the Googles, and for the record it was negative.

The investigators, who hail from Brown University and Lifespan, published their findings in Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
“The brain aging products sold today can be a financial drain, decrease participation in more proven effective lifestyle interventions like exercise, and potentially undermine cognitive health by frustrating the worried well if poorly designed,” Snyder told BurrillReports.
 “More randomized clinical trials in cognitive training need to be conducted with sufficient follow-up time that can actually measure changes in daily functioning.”


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