Brain training systems have mixed results, analysis finds

Amit Lampit, Ph.D.
Amit Lampit, Ph.D.

Computer-based “brain training” systems can help memory and thinking skills among seniors, but do not have an impact on problem solving or impulse control, according to a new study.

Brain training, or computerized cognitive training, involves practicing mentally challenging exercises, and they are popular in long-term care facilities.  

University of Sydney researchers at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Research Institute completed a meta-analysis involving 51 randomized clinical trials involving around 5,000 participants. 

There were different factors related to whether training was effective. The analysis found group-based brain training with a professional trainer helps older adults with their cognitive skills, but self-directed brain training at home has no therapeutic effect. 

Another variable was related to training frequency, they said. 

“Training one to three times a week was effective, but training more than this neutralized any cognitive benefits,” said BMRI's Amit Lampit, Ph.D., the study's lead author, noting that brain training is similar to strenuous physical exercise in that patients need rest between sessions.

The researchers cautioned that while brain training can help cognition, it is not a “magic bullet.”

Modest gains should be expected, said associate professor Michael Valenzuela, Ph.D.

“We still don't know if this type of activity can prevent or delay dementia. Much more research is needed," he said.

“Brain training carried out in a center can improve cognition in older adults, but commercial products promoted for solo training use at home just don't work. There are better ways to spend your time and money,” Valenzuela said.

Results were published
in November in PLOS
Medicine
.