"Brain training" (also called "cognitive training" and "cognitive rehabilitation") is getting lots of buzz. But can brain games slow cognitive changes? The jury's still out. Scientists are learning that the healthy older brain is more adaptive than was previously believed, but whether this is true for those who already have cognitive deficits, such as dementia, remains unclear.
Here are five facts about brain training:
1. Who Leads Brain Training
Much like physical rehab, optimal brain training is led by a trained therapist. Home software programs and online programs abound but are less tested, and self-directed programs require a lot of discipline.
2. Where to Find Brain-Training Programs
Unfortunately, these therapies are relatively new and not widely available. Two places to look: a university research center (ask at its aging or memory clinics) or a local hospital, especially one affiliated with a major medical center.
3. How Brain Training Works
The therapy seems to help people learn to work around weak spots in their thinking skills. It helps the brain adapt and compensate.
4. Who Benefits From Brain Training
Because the aging brain has been shown to be able to continue to grow, healthy older adults are thought to be able to speed certain types of processing skills. Whether brain exercises can stave off or slow decline is unknown. Brain training certainly can't hurt people with mild deficits, as long as they aren't pushed to the point of frustration.
5. What to Know About Brain Training and Dementia
The catch for those who already have deficits is that brain training requires persistence and focus, traits that people with early-stage dementia struggle with.