brain training

The number of computer programs that promise to sharpen, train and preserve brain function seem to be proliferating. There has been a lot of press coverage about a paper in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia . The authors reviewed all the evidence available on interventions aimed at preserving cognitive function in healthy elderly people. Just as I say in point number five of the 10 steps to health in ’09, the authors point out that there is no decent evidence that these kinds of programs work. Furthermore, they may even come with potential harms.

As Professor Peter Snyder, one of the co-authors, wrote in an e-mail to me yesterday: ”There are several lifestyle-related things that older persons can do that have much better clinical data supporting their effectiveness, for possibly delaying onset of dementia.  First, there is truly excellent physiological, neurological and clinical outcomes data supporting the role of regular exercise – even three times per week for 20 minutes per session of exercise (e.g., fast walking).  Second, we know that obesity, diabetes and heart-disease are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease.  Finally, I suspect that remaining cognitively active does indeed offer some protective benefit… the point of my paper is that there are no credible data to support the increased benefit of these marketed products and brief interventions, over maintaining a socially active lifestyle, remaining engaged and active with family and friends, learning new hobbies, music or a foreign language, playing Suduku or crossword puzzles, cooking, and reading good books on a regular basis.”

Personally, I find this advice very life-affirming.

Margaret McCartney’s Blog

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A forum on healthcare policy and professional issues, by Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist Margaret McCartney.