Though crossword puzzles may give your brain an edge every now and then, research suggests other types of brain training can be more effective in improving cognitive function — for older adults at least.
The findings add to what scientists are beginning to learn: attention-based visual training has the potential to strengthen neural connections in the brain.
Researchers plan to finish the project in January, but the first round of results are available in British Medical Journal Open.
The team drew data from the Iowa Healthy and Active Minds Study. In the setup, 681 participants 50 years and older were randomly assigned to testing groups. One group received 10 hours of training under supervision, while another participated in one session of brain training with a four-hour follow-up session 11 months later. The third group completed one session of brain training at home, and the fourth participated in a computerized crossword puzzle training session under supervision. Most people trained for two hours at a time.
Researchers used participants’ “useful field of view” — basically what’s noticeable out of the corner of the eye — as a means to measure progress. With age, a person’s field shrinks but can be strengthened with pratice. The training came in the form of a game that challenged participants to visually process multiple things on the screen at once.
So far, researchers found that participants using the computer program showed improvements in useful field of view and other cognitive tests eight weeks after training when compared to the crossword puzzle control group.
If more data support these conclusions, these types of computer interventions may help some people stay mentally sharp. Yet because minorities were underrepresented in the sample, it might be difficult to expand the findings to other groups, the authors say.
The effectiveness of such training is still debated by some researchers, though. Not all studies have suggested benefits from brain training programs, in part because it’s difficult to prove that participants’ progress during trained tasks translates to untrained tasks.
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