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Brain Exercises Can Enhance Memory
and Prevent Dementia

For millions of people who are approaching old age, developing dementia, particularly if there is a family history of the disease, is a frightening prospect.

Dementia is the loss of mental abilities and most commonly occurs late in life. Of all persons over age 65, 5-8% are demented. This percentage increases considerably with age. Twenty-five to 50% of people over 85 are affected. The most common form of dementia, Alzheimer's disease, accounts for 50-75% of all cases of dementia.

What is clear from numerous observational studies is that keeping mentally active throughout life reduces the risk of developing dementia. Engaging in physical, social, and mental activities contributes to decrease dementia risk, says Professor Fratiglioni, who published a paper in 2006 examining the relative importance of these three types of activities in protecting 776 healthy elderly people from dementia.

Data from the five-year follow-up of one of the largest cohort studies to investigate the relation between cognitive activity and the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease was published in June 2007. The Rush memory and aging project, a clinical-pathological study of risk factors for common chronic conditions of old age, enrolled more than 1000 people living in retirement communities and subsidised housing facilities in the Chicago area. Over five years, 90 of the participants developed Alzheimer’s disease.

"The level of cognitive activity in old age predicted who would get Alzheimer's disease years later," says Robert Wilson, one of the investigators. "The level of activity prior to old age was also predictive, but not after controlling for activity levels in old age," he explains. "This is an observational study, so we have not proved causation, but the evidence from observational studies is extremely consistent. Nearly every prospective study of this type has found this association despite widely varying ways of measuring how mentally active people are. The correlation is quite robust."

Mental Exercises May Delay the Aging Process

According to Gary Small, M.D., director of UCLA's Center on Aging, "Genetics . . . accounts for only one-third of the risk for dementia or rapid brain aging. That means the other two-thirds is non-genetic and partially under an individual's control." So your mental health is largely up to you. Dr. Small recommends focusing on four key areas to keep your brain in tip-top shape: diet, stress reduction, physical conditioning, and mental activity and memory training.

Doing specific mental exercises can enhance memory and other cognitive abilities of older adults, which may delay the aging process and even prevent dementia and Alzheimer's.

Dr. Elizabeth Zelinski of the University of Southern California Andrus Gerontology Center presented data from the IMPACT study (Improvement in Memory with Plasticity-based Adaptive Cognitive Training) — the largest study ever done on aging and cognitive training.

In this prospective, randomized, controlled, double blind trial of 524 healthy adults (aged 65 and older), half the participants completed up to 40 hours of the computer-based brain fitness program. The other half, who followed the traditional advice that older adults will benefit from new learning, completed up to 40 hours of a computer-based educational training program.

The group that engaged in the brain fitness program showed significantly superior improvements in standardized clinical measures of memory gains of approximately 10 years. This is the first research study to show generalization to untrained standardized measures of memory using a publicly available cognitive training program.

Participants using the brain fitness program also showed significant improvements in how they perceived their memory and cognitive abilities. This included questions about every day tasks such as remembering names and phone numbers or where they had left their keys as well as communication abilities and feelings of self-confidence.

"The changes we saw in the experimental group were remarkable — and significantly larger than the gains in the control group," Dr. Zelinski said. "From a researcher's point of view, this was very impressive — people got better at the tasks trained, those improvements generalized to various standardized measures of memory, and people perceived improvements in their lives."

Another study, called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE, involved 2,802 adults aged 65 and older and assigned them randomly to four groups. Three of the groups took part in training that targeted a specific cognitive ability — memory, reasoning, or speed of processing. The fourth group received no cognitive training.

Participants in the three training groups attended up to 10 sessions lasting 60 to 75 minutes each over a 5 to 6 week period. After the initial training period, 60 percent of the participants received a series of 75-minute "booster" sessions designed to maintain improvements gained from the initial sessions. The scientists tested the participants at the start of the study, after the training period was complete, and annually over five years. Immediately after the initial training period 87 percent of the speed training group, 74 percent of the reasoning group and 26 percent of the memory group showed improvement in the skills taught. After five years, individuals in each group continued to perform better on tests in their respective areas of training than did individuals in the control group.

Study co-author Sherry L. Willis, Ph.D., of Pennsylvania State University, states, "The improvements seen after the training roughly counteract the degree of decline in cognitive performance that we would expect to see over a seven-to-14-year period among older people without dementia."

Keep your brain fit and healthy with Compublox, a series of mental exercises, designed to improve a variety of cognitive skills including concentration, processing speed, memory, and logical thinking.


  • "Brain exercise can enhance memory, thinking, in older adults" Science Daily,
  • Butcher, J., "Mind games: do they work?"
  • "Maintaining your mental fitness," ParentingWeekly,

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