Review Suggests Evidence for Computer-Based Brain Training Limited and Varies Widely

What: Evidence for the effectiveness of commercially available computerized braining training programs to ward off age-related cognitive decline remains unclear, despite the popularity of such products.  Researchers in Australia conducted a literature review to assess the quality of the studies that have been done on computer-based brain training programs that claim to reduce cognitive decline. Of 18 training products identified, researchers found only 7 of the programs with published research data. In looking at evidence for those 7 programs, they found only 2 companies offered data meeting the highest criteria of research methodology (Level III). Of those programs, one relied in part on data from a governmental study (ACTIVE) from which a piece of their training protocol was based, yet modified from the version researched. None of the programs demonstrated impact on long-term dementia outcome. In addition, the authors found evidence for “selection bias” based on selective reporting by the companies of research potentially more supportive of their products.

Why it Matters: As the population continues to age, those concerned about memory loss, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, continue to seek ways to promote better brain fitness. Computerized brain training is readily available, yet has been previously criticized for overreaching claims and limited efficacy. This analysis of the studies of those programs’ effectiveness continues to demonstrate the need for more stringently designed research to measure the impact of computer based training.

The Takeaway: The researchers of this study outlined the quality of the evidence for a variety of computerized brain training programs, with a clear warning of caveat emptor – or “buyer beware.”  This is consistent with TBH’s position that such products have value limited to “skills training,” do not impact long-term brain vitality, and should only be used as part of a comprehensive brain training program focused on wellness engagement across physical, social-emotional and intellectual modalities.

Tejal M. Shah, Michael Weinborn, Giuseppe Verdile, Hamid R. Sohrabi, Ralph N. Martins; Enhancing Cognitive Functioning in Healthy Older Adults: a Systematic Review of the Clinical Significance of Commercially Available Computerized Cognitive Training in Preventing Cognitive Decline; Neuropsychol Rev; DOI 10.1007/s11065-016-9338-9