The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, tested brain training in 2,785 healthy adults, discovering it can delay dementia related to Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related conditions.

The new clinical trial results, presented Sunday at the Alzheimer’s Assn.’s International Conference in Toronto, establish specialized brain training as a potentially powerful strategy to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and other afflictions, including normal aging, that sap memory and reduce function. A computerized cognitive training program cut the risk of dementia among healthy people by 48%, U.S. researchers said on Sunday in reporting an analysis of the results of a 10-year study.

The new findings would be quite promising if they hold up through peer review and publication in a scientific journal, said Dr. John King, an expert in social research at the National Institute of Aging. Dr. King worked on the original clinical trial on which the new analysis is based.

“The Alzheimer’s Association believes there is sufficiently strong evidence to conclude that lifelong learning and certain types of cognitive training may reduce the risk of cognitive decline,” Dr. Maria Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said in a press release. “These new 10-year findings are evidence that it may hold true for dementia as well as cognitive decline.”

Participants were divided into three groups. One got training for memory improvement, one for reasoning and one with computerized training in speed-of-processing.

In the speed training, which emphasized visual perception, individuals were asked to identify objects on a screen quickly. The program got harder with each correct answer.Participants had 10 one-hour training sessions conducted in a classroom setting over five weeks. Some received four additional “booster” sessions one year after the original training, and four more two years after that.Scientists measured cognitive and functional changes immediately and at one, two, three, five and 10 years after the training to see if it affected how participants performed daily tasks.

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People who completed 11 or more speed training sessions were at 48 per cent less risk for developing dementia over the 10 years of the study, Dr. Jerri Edwards of the University of South Florida said.

“We believe 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,” said Dr. Jerry Edwards, an associate professor at the University of South Florida and first author of the scientific abstract. “Next, we’d like to get a better grasp on what exactly is the right amount of cognitive training to get the optimal benefits.”

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