Brain training games boost the memory and may reduce the risk of dementia, new research suggests.
A study by Cambridge University found that video games improved the brain function of those with early memory problems which can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.
Participants were given a games to play on an ipad, in which they tried to win gold coins by putting different patterns in their correct places.
[Brain training is] a promising way to improve early memory symptoms of the disease
Dr Tara Spires-Jones
Brain training games have soared in popularity but many people get bored with their repetitive nature.
The new app – called Game Show – becomes increasingly challenging as players succeed, in order to keep them stimulated.
The trials tested the game on 42 patients over-45 with amnestic mild cognitive impairment – which can be a precursor or warning sign of dementia.
For a month, half played Game Show for two hours a week and the rest played no video games at all.
The results, in the International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, showed players improved their “episodic” memory by about 40 per cent.
This helps to in day to day activities such as remembering where keys were left, or where we parked our car in a multi-storey car park.
Professor Barbara Sahakian, one of the inventors, said: “Brain training can be beneficial.
“But it needs to be based on sound research. Our game allowed us to individualise a patient’s training programme and make it fun.”
Larger trials are planned to see how long the benefits last.
Dr Carol Routledge from Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “Game Show could hold some benefit for people with mild memory problems.
“But without more research we can’t tell if the same benefits could be achieved with any other electronic game.
“The fear of a dementia diagnosis is at an all-time high so there is a lot of interest in cognitive brain training.”
Around 850,000 Brits have dementia, but the figure is expected to hit one million by 2025.
There is currently no cure but some drugs can control the symptoms.
Dr Tara Spires-Jones, Interim Director at Centre for Cognitive and Neural Systems at Edinburgh University, said the findings were “promising”.
She said: “While this type of brain training will not ultimately be able to prevent or cure memory diseases like dementia, they are a promising way to improve early memory symptoms of the disease.
“The results reinforce previous work that cognitive [brain] training improves memory in people with mild cognitive impairment.”
But Professor Robert Howard, Professor of Old Age Psychiatry, UCL, said there is little evidence brain training can protect against dementia.
He said: “This was an uncontrolled and open study, and so it is difficult to know how much significance we should place on the small improvements in neuropsychological test scores observed.”