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Your Health

Brain games that prevent Alzheimer’s? May be too good to be true

Dec 01 2016
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The popularity of applications and games that claim to help with increasing brain power is steadily increasing. While mental exercises can increase brain function, claims of preventing cognitive diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, are still not backed by science.

“There’s no research showing that mental exercises, such as memory exercises, can prevent Alzheimer’s,” said Jeff Maney, Ph.D., a psychologist and associate medical director for Aetna Behavioral Health. “There’s no proven connection between improving memory or other cognitive skills and altering the onset, severity, or course of Alzheimer’s.”

A number of companies are creating brain-training apps. For example, Lumosity is a subscription-based service which consists of brain training games created by Lumos Labs and is used by over 70 million users, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

60 to 80 percent of dementia cases are made up of Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia – accounting for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It is an irreversible, progressive brain disorder that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. There is no known cure.

The global prevalence of dementia is predicted to increase to 65.7 million in 2030 and 115.4 million in 2050, according to a study published in The Journal of American Medicine.

The truth about brain games

While Maney said it is possible to improve memory through training exercises and other methods, he advised being cautious of companies that claim their services can prevent the development of cognitive disorders.

“In general, you can improve memory,” Maney said, “but there’s no relationship to Alzheimer’s prevention.”

65.7 million people in the world are estimated to be diagnosed with dementia in 2030. 115.4 million are estimated to be diagnosed in 2050

In January 2016, Lumos Labs paid $2 million to settle charges of deceptive advertising brought against the company by the United States Federal Trade Commission.

Lumos Labs claimed its games could improve performance on everyday tasks, delay age-related cognitive decline and protect against mild cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, and reduce cognitive impairment associated with various health conditions.

The FTC levied the charges against Lumos Labs because the company did not have scientific evidence supporting its claims.

What can you do?

The Alzheimer’s Association recommends keeping the brain active every day. Staying cognitively active is important and contributes to healthy living, according to Maney.

Maney said it’s okay to use apps, but he recommends not paying for them.

For those that don’t want to use an app to stay mentally engaged, Maney said completing crosswords or Sudoku puzzles, reading, and other forms of intellectual stimulation are additional forms of mental exercise.

Being a “lifelong learner” can also help the mind stay engaged, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. In addition to doing word puzzles, reading and attending lectures keep the mind active.

“Mental activity contributes to overall health,” Maney said, as do socialization, exercise, and a healthy diet.  The National Institute on Aging recommends all of these activities for older adults as we await further research on Alzheimer’s disease.