More than five million Americans are currently living with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Even more alarmingly? Someone develops the disease every 60 seconds in the United States — a figure which will spike to every 33 seconds by mid-century. By the year 2050, meanwhile, the number of older adults with Alzheimer's will nearly triple to a projected 13.8 million people.
While researchers are frantically working toward a cure, they are also investigating ways to help people with the disease live better. One potentially promising pathway? Brain training apps.
What is Brain Training?
Scientists used to think the human brain stayed static throughout life. However, research now indicates that the brain is always changing — even after it reaches maturity. This is called “brain plasticity.”
Says the Administration for Community Living's “Brain Health” website, “As we experience the world, practice habits and learn new information, our brains change, grow new connections and repair broken ones. As we age, our experiences and knowledge keep our brains working, developing and learning.”
But just like physical exercise helps the body stay fit, so does cognitive enrichment boost brain health. According to one paper published in JAMA Neurology, people who enjoyed “intellectual activities” throughout their lives not only had fitter minds than their counterparts, but were also able to delay the onset of Alzheimer's for years. Concludes study author and professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic David Knopman, “Keeping your brain mentally stimulated is a lifelong enterprise.”
But What About Brain Training Apps?
A quick search of Google or the App Store turns up many results pertaining to brain training. But can apps really make a difference in the lives of Alzheimer's patients?
According to a recent CNET article, it's a very strong possibility. Because while there's currently no definitive proof that brain-training games can keep memory loss, dementia and other age-related cognitive issues at bay, this doesn't mean that they don't work. In fact, early evidence suggests that they may have huge potential.
Consider the Advanced Cognitive Training in Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, during which nearly 3,000 older adults played a speed-training game which challenged them to identify objects at increasingly faster rates. The results? A 50 percent decline in dementia risk among participants.
Because of these and other similar findings, many experts believe that brain-training apps — in conjunction with other treatments, such as exercise and medicine — may eventually become part of a “cocktail” for treating Alzheimer's disease. However, the widespread adoption of brain training apps as clinical interventions is still a ways into the future as regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration will be required.
The overall takeaway? While scientists are still evaluating the full potential of brain training apps for people with Alzheimer's disease, the future looks bright. The best part? They're fun, too. For more useful content on everything from senior home care to senior housing, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.