New research from the University of Texas at Dallas shows that brain training can improve cognitive health and even reverse cognitive decline.
Enhanced Brain Functions
In a recent study, scientists put patients in complex “directed brain training” for 1 hour a week for 12 weeks. What they saw was significant changes in three specific brain functions:
– an increase in global and regional cerebral blood flow
– greater synchrony in important brain networks
– increased white matter integrity (wiring in brain that helps information travel)
As we age, our brain function declines and we lose specific skills, such as memory, attention span, and the ability to reason. Patients in the study displayed improvements in two cognitive domains after the mental activity: strategic reasoning and the ability to abstract concepts.
“Greater levels of brain blood flow are associated with higher cognitive performance,” Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth, said in a University press release. “With upwards of 8 percent increase in brain blood flow, this research shows that participants are regaining measurable brain health.”
A follow up test conducted 1 year later confirmed that the enhanced cognitive abilities remained, proof that the results were not merely a short term effect of the training. Because dementia ranks as the number one cause of long term care in the United States, affecting more than 5 million Americans, research continues to surge in nearly every related area. Studies on brain health have slightly shifted focus in recent years, from searching for a cure towards identifying preventative measures, like this complex targeted training.
The research was funded by several different groups: the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health, the T. Boone Pickens Foundation, the Lyda Hill Foundation and the Dee Wyly Distinguished University Endowment. The researchers attributed the ability to conduct this type of study to advancements in imaging technology.
Dr. Chapman and Dee Wyly, Distinguished University Chair, explained the implications of the study: “Until recently, cognitive decline in healthy adults was viewed as an inevitable consequence of aging. This research shows that neuroplasticity can be harnessed to enhance brain performance and provides hope for individuals to improve their own mental capacity and cognitive brain health by habitually exercising higher-order thinking strategies no matter their age.”
Risk of Dementia
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia pose a large risk to many, especially those with a family history. A recent report found that the number of Alzheimer’s cases in Texas is expected to triple by 2050, so planning for this potentially devastating situation can help save you from financial stress in the future, which can help reduce the associated emotional toll.
Remaining mentally and socially engaged are key to helping your brain stay active and healthy. Exercise and proper nutrition can also help prevent dementia, according to research. Read more about how to protect yourself from the risk that long term care poses.