These days there has been a lot of attention placed on aging and along with that Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.  Emerging research has shown that the simple act of reading, playing crossword puzzles, or doing crafts can decrease your chances of mental decline as you age.  Some neuro-scientists have taken this a step further and have been developing specific, targeted exercises to not only stave off dementia, but to also improve mental sharpness, memory, attention, processing speed and cognitive control (decision making and planning).  I don’t know about you, but these are all areas in which I could use improvement. 

A new Mayo Clinic study found that reading books, playing games, participating in computer activities and crafting led to a 30 to 50 percent decrease in the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment. People who watched television for less than seven hours a day in later years were 50 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who watched more than seven hours of television per day. Additionally, individuals who participated in social activities and read magazines during middle age were about 40 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than those who did not participate in those activities.  This study was presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting in Seattle, April 25-May 2, 2009.  (Source)

 In a recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (N Engl J Med 2003;348:2508-16), scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in collaboration with Syracuse University studied 469 subjects older than 75 years of age who lived in the community setting. They recorded the frequency of participation in leisure activities for the subjects. They documented their thinking and physical abilities and recorded them in activity-days per week.  The researchers found that over an average period of 5.4 years, dementia developed in 124 subjects (Alzheimer’s disease in 61 subjects, vascular dementia in 30, mixed dementia in 25, and other types of dementia in 8). They also found that among leisure activities, reading, playing board games, playing musical instruments, and dancing were associated with a reduced risk of dementia.

In searching the web for information about this, as well as programs or exercises to help improve my mental sharpness, I came across a site called Lumosity.com.  Run by Lumos Labs, a cognitive neuroscience research and development company that builds software tools for improving brain health and performance, this site was created with fun in mind.  They have a large selection of Flash based online games that give your grey matter a good workout, while keeping you entertained.  Personally I feel like my brain muscle is getting stretched.   Check it out, you can get a free week of brain expending games by clicking here Free Trial of Lumosity

 Lumosity.com has even done their own research studies on the effects of their exercises.  The following are excerpts from their website. (http://www.lumosity.com/info/science/results)

-Research presented at the Bay Area Neuroscience Gathering in San Francisco, CA shows that the Lumosity brain games improve working memory.

 Working memory capacity of 23 individuals was tested before and after training.

Subjects who trained with several of the Lumosity brain exercises on a daily basis for 30 days improved on the memory exercises. More importantly, the trained subjects also improved on independent tests of working memory (p<.01, two-tailed t-Test), which were not part of the training, while the control group showed no change upon retesting.

For more details, download the white paper or view the scientific poster presentation.

-Lumosity brain exercises are designed to improve processing speed by challenging users to gradually increment the rate of other cognitive processes. For example, users who trained with our arithmetic exercise Raindrops for at least 10 sessions can solve math problems faster and more accurately (p<.001, two-tailed t-Test). Those that completed Word Bubbles at least 10 times improve at word-finding and are able to find more words in a given amount of time (p<.001, two-tailed t-Test).

-Lumosity includes exercises developed to enhance cognitive control. The effective outcomes of these exercises are currently being studied. Preliminary results include a 9-second (16 percent) improvement on Trail Making, Part B, a common test of executive function, in subjects who trained for 30 days with a subset of the Lumosity exercises (p<0.05, two-tailed t-Test).

More information about this research is available by downloading the poster that was presented at the Society for Neuroscience Conference in 2007.

Brain training with Lumosity was demonstrated to improve visual attention in a study first presented at the 2006 Society for Neuroscience conference in Atlanta, GA.

 Visual attention was measured in intervention and control groups at the beginning and end of the experiment. Trained subjects completed an average of 33 five-minute sessions of Birdwatching, one of the Lumosity visual attention exercises.

Attention and perceptual accuracy improved significantly more in subjects who trained with Lumosity brain games than in those who did not train (p<0.01, two-tailed t-Test).

For more details, download the white paper or view the scientific poster.