By Dr. Maria Simbra

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Is there anything you can do to prevent dementia? A recent study suggests, you need speed.

You can get speed training through an the app called Brain HQ. Subscriptions are $8 to $14 a month. So, should you do it? Allegheny General Hospital dementia specialist Dr. Carol Schramke is skeptical.

“If this is affordable to you, and this is appealing to you, and you’re going to do it… go ahead and do that,” says Dr. Schramke, “but I still don’t know if there’s anything specifically magical about this particular program.”

The study touting the benefit is soon to be published in the journal “Alzheimer’s and Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions.”

Over ten years, it followed nearly 3,000 healthy older adults living in the community. They performed reasonably well on a dementia screening test and were randomly assigned to one of four groups: memory, reasoning, speed of processing training as interventions, or no contact as the control group. The intervention groups got ten training sessions over six weeks.

“Having a lot of participants makes it more likely that you’re going to get accurate and reliable data,” says Dr. Schramke. “Dementia is something that develops over years, not months, and so following people for ten years is great.”

Memory training focuses on word-based recall. Reasoning training focuses on problem-solving and pattern identification. Speed training uses computer-based exercises involving visual perception of complex information.

Over the 10 year study, about 1,500 people died or dropped out.

Including their information as well, it turns out 23 percent of the group that had the speed training developed dementia, compared to 29 percent for the no contact control group. Only a six percent difference, but it could be important.

“If you think of the huge number of people who are at risk in this country, having a six percent difference, that’s a lot of people,” Dr. Schramke points out.

Of note, while the groups were randomly assigned, it just so happens people in the speed training group had a slightly lower rate of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

The study acknowledges not having diabetes or depression, and having a larger vocabulary at the outset were more powerful factors than the study’s brain training programs when it comes to preventing dementia.

“It’s hard to believe that, I think it’s like, 10 to 15 hours of training is going to influence whether you get dementia ten years later,” says Dr. Schramke.

Dr. Schramke says the study needs to be validated by other independent researchers. The ones who conducted this study disclosed a potential financial benefit from selling the training programs.

“Looking at the study as a whole, it’s exciting, it’s promising, but it’s not the final answer,” Dr. Schramke says.

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