Monday, February 23, 2009

Brain Research: New Alzheimer's Theory, and those "Brain Exercises"

Research on the brain and how it works has yielded some interesting findings related to cognitive function, namely how it may decline and whether popular techniques can really stave off this decline.

Scientists at the biotech company Genentech have offered a new theory of how Alzheimer's disease kills brain cells, a finding that could yield new ideas for developing effective treatments. The researchers "believe a chemical mechanism that naturally prunes away unwanted brain cells during early brain development somehow gets hijacked in Alzheimer's disease." A chemical called amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is a key part of the plaques found in the brain in Alzheimer's patients, is thought to be the "driving force" behind the process.

In another dementia-related finding, the author of a study on "brain exercises" that have been pitched to older adults says that these programs are not effective at warding off cognitive decline, at least not in healthy adults.

The programs, which range from Web sites to PC-based games, have seen sales skyrocket as older adults try to find ways to prevent Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Reuters Health quoted Dr. Peter J. Snyder of Lifespan Affiliated Hospitals in Providence, Rhode Island as saying, "These marketed products don't confer any additional benefit over and above being socially and intellectually active in one's normal daily life."

The study found that some types of "brain training" may be of use to patients who already have memory problems, but they haven't clearly shown a benefit to patients who don't have cognitive impairment.

1 comment:

Martin Walker said...

Unfortunately, these studies can be misleading on both sides. The researchers didn't do a broad enough study to demonstrate whether memory and cognition could be improved with appropriate training. Other studies aimed at this have shown that it is possible, but the results get hyped.

Readers might be interested in Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl's study on Improving Fluid Intelligence by Training Working Memory (PNAS April 2008) which recorded increases in mental agility (fluid intelligence) of more than 40% after 19 days of focused working memory training.

I was so impressed that I contacted the research team and developed a software program using the same method so that anyone can achieve these improvements at home.
Mind Sparke Brain Fitness Pro

Effective, Affordable Brain Fitness Software