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More research suggests brain exercises boost cognitive function, stave off dementia

Nearly 36 million people worldwide are living with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. And, as the population grows, this number is projected to climb to 65.7 million by 2030 and 115.4 million by 2050, according to statistics from the American Health Assistance Foundation.

Research published earlier this year suggested a link between "brain-stimulating activities" and levels of protein thought to cause Alzheimer's disease. But the study focused on measuring lifelong engagement in brain-training games, causing some to wonder if such cognitive exercises would be effective if patients' game-playing habits began later in life. Now findings in the journal BMC Medicine suggest that possibility.

In the study (.pdf), Chinese researchers recruited 270 healthy adults ages 65 to 75 years old and randomly assigned them to cognitive training programs or a wait-list group, which served as the control. Training involved either a multi-domain intervention tackling memory, reasoning, problem solving, map reading, handicrafts, health education and exercise, or a single-domain approach focusing only on reasoning. The hour-long training sessions occurred twice a week for three months. According to a journal release:

The results of the study were positive. Profs Chunbo Li and Wenyuan Wu who led the research explained, "Compared to the control group, who received no training, both levels of cognitive training improved mental ability, although the multifaceted training had more of a long term effect. The more detailed training also improved memory, even when measured a year later and booster training had an additional improvement on mental ability scores."

Previously: Alzheimer's disease: Why research is so critical, Stanford biostatistician talks about saving your aging brain and Alzheimer's disease costs to soar over next 40 years
Photo by L. Whittaker

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