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This Play-at-Home Game Could Slash Dementia Risk

Breakthrough study sheds light on the importance of mind exercises

Brain Games and Dementia

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In a new study, a computer game that requires users to identify objects that appear on the periphery of the screen as well as in the center of it was shown to reduce the risk of dementia.

Performing an hourly brain-training exercise over several weeks could reduce your risk of dementia by nearly a third, according to a breakthrough study. 

From crossword puzzles to chess to mastering the Romance languages, plenty of mind exercises and brain-challenging hobbies have been touted as having protective powers against the onset of cognitive decline — with mixed results. While scientists agree that keeping the mind engaged is a helpful bulwark against aging, no single approach has been proved effective over the long run.

But in a study published in an official journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, researchers who followed 2,802 people 65 and older found that those who took part in a speed-based brain game based on useful-field-of-view (UFOV) training had a 29 percent lower relative risk of developing dementia 10 years later. In addition, the more booster sessions an individual had, the greater were the game’s protective effects.

UFOV is different from other forms of brain exercises in that it uses multitiered speed-processing training, says Frederick W. Unverzagt, Ph.D., an author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Indiana University School of Medicine. Available commercially as Double Decision from Posit Science, the computer game requires users to identify objects that appear on the periphery of the screen as well as in the center of it — a “double decision.” As the player gets used to the demands of the game and, hence, becomes faster at it, the game speeds up. 

“As you get to an accuracy rate of about 75 to 80 percent, it automatically changes to make the game more challenging,” says Unverzagt. “The program adapts to your level of proficiency.”

The combination of speed, multilevel decision-making and adaptation to the player’s increasing skill level seems to be the key to the program’s effectiveness, says Unverzagt. “You are getting better at something simply by doing it. The environment is constantly changing, and you’re achieving success and getting better every step of the way.” 

The researchers are not certain of the mechanism by which it works, but Unverzagt believes that this type of training invokes a number of brain networks to work together on the task in a way that's different from other modes of learning.

“Epidemiological evidence has suggested that there may be ways to improve the brain’s reserve capacity or at least keep it from declining,” says Unverzagt. This new study may be bringing us closer to an effective strategy that works for everyone.

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