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New Study: Brain Training App Helps Pre-Dementia Patients

A newly published study from researchers at the University of Rochester shows that brain training from a readily available app drove improvements in several brain systems that typically degenerate toward dementia among patients with pre-dementia.

The brain training used in the study was a set of exercises from BrainHQ, the brain training app made by Posit Science.

The study was among patients with amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (aMCI). While patients with aMCI can return to normal cognition, they are considered to be among the highest risk for progression to dementia. For example, a 2009 study found 48.7 percent progressed to Alzheimer’s within 30 months of their aMCI diagnosis.

In this randomized controlled trial, 84 aMCI patients were included in an intervention group that trained on the five exercises found in BrainHQ’s “Focus on Visual Processing”course, and an active control group, which trained on computerized games (including Solitaire and Sudoku). Participants in each group were encouraged to train for six weeks, completing four one-hour sessions each week.

All patients were tested at baseline, immediately after training, and six months later, using a cognitive assessment, cognitive-task and resting electrocardiogram (ECG), and resting functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scan.

Overall, the BrainHQ group showed significant gains across a wide variety of measures, including physical health (heart rate variability), cognition (speed and attention), and neurological health (brain connectivity in networks governing behavior, thought, and successful adaptation to stress).

The fMRI data showed the intervention group had significantly greater connectivity across multiple cognitive networks that are susceptible to degeneration from dementia. Greater connectivity is associated with greater efficiency in cognitive processing.

“There’s a big difference between brain exercises designed to improve cognitive and real-world function and keeping your brain busy with ordinary brain games,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science. “This research shows why that’s the case – exercises in BrainHQ improved connectivity across multiple regions, including networks that govern thinking and planning (the Central Executive Network), detecting and filtering important events (the Salience Network), and rapidly changing plans (Frontal Parietal Network). Ordinary brain games don’t do that.”

The BrainHQ intervention group also showed significant improvement (as compared to the control) in vagal control of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) — through which the brain regulates other organs and bodily processes. A stronger ANS is associated with a patient’s ability to adapt to the stressors of aging and disease.

Certain training effects were durable, with connectivity gains sustained six months after training. Scientists hypothesize that such long-lasting effects make the brain more resilient to the system-wide degeneration common in dementia.

According to Posit Science, more than 100 published studies of the exercises in BrainHQ have shown benefits, including gains in standard measures of cognition (attention, speed, memory, executive function, social cognition), in standard measures of quality of life (mood, confidence and control, managing stress, health-related quality of life) and in real world activities (gait, balance, driving, everyday cognition, maintaining independence).

“This is the seventh journal article from independent researchers showing our training can yield positive results for people with MCI or sub-clinical dementia,” noted Dr. Mahncke. “We are honored to be working with researchers, health insurers, and community-based organizations to get this technology into the hands of people it can help – which, increasingly, looks like practically everyone.”

There is a monthly subscription fee for the BrainHQ app, but it is now included as a benefit by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans; by the Department of Defense to military personnel; and by hundreds of clinics, libraries, and communities. Consumers can also try BrainHQ for free at

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