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Computer brain games ‘stave off mental decline’

November 3, 2015

Playing online games that exercise reasoning and memory skills could have major benefits for older people, a wide-scale study has found.

Playing regularly over six months also helped how well older people perform everyday tasks such as doing the shopping and using public transport, found researchers at King’s College London.

Nearly 7,000 people aged 50 and over signed up for the six-month experiment, launched by BBC TV’s Bang Goes The Theory.

The volunteers were recruited from the general population by a partnership between the BBC, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Medical Research Council.

The package comprised three reasoning tasks, such as balancing weights on a see-saw, and three problem-solving tasks, such as putting numbered tiles in numerical order.

Volunteers completed cognitive tests, including assessments of grammatical reasoning and memory, before the study began and again after six weeks, three months and six months.

Those over 60 also carried out tests of daily living skills, such as using the telephone or doing shopping.

After six months, the over-60s who took part in the brain training were found to have significant improvements in carrying out daily tasks, while those over the age of 50 recorded better reasoning and verbal learning.

The improvements were most effective when people played brain-training games at least five times a week.

The researchers from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s are starting a longer trial to establish whether this approach could help prevent the development of dementia.

Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society said: “Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do.

“While this study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we’re excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks.”

Dr Doug Brown, from the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multimillion-pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do.

“While this study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain-training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we’re excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks.”

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