6 June 2017
Preliminary findings from one of the first mental health research projects started at USC’s Thompson Institute has found that brain training can improve both attention and mood in older adults.
USC Associate Professor of Neuropsychology and Mental Health Mathew Summers said he was excited by the results of the initial 18-month phase of the project.
“We’re at the halfway point of our research, and participants have reported that the brain training is a life-changing experience,” he said.
Dr Summers and PhD student Ben Isbel trained and tested 50 voluntary participants aged over 60 in the study at the Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience – Thompson Institute.
The institute was established by USC in 2015 after a donation from philanthropists Roy and Nola Thompson enabled the purchase of a three-storey building at Birtinya.
Dr Summers, who specialises in assessing ageing-related changes in brain function such as dementia, said the study demonstrated that healthy older adults could improve their cognitive function through a short, brain-training program.
“Results from our first study show that eight weeks of training is all that it takes to change the way the brain functions,” he said.
“Many people notice their attention and memory begins to slow as they age. This research is beginning to show that people can change their brains by engaging in regular mental exercise.
“The training activates neural plasticity to change the way the brain functions. It has the potential to protect against age-related changes in cognition.”
Participants attended weekly training sessions at the Thompson Institute and completed daily home practice for eight weeks.
“They were tested before and after the program on computerised attention tasks while their brain activity was recorded by a state-of-the-art EEG recording machine,” Dr Summers said.
The researchers are now starting a second study to further investigate the potential of brain training to prevent cognitive decline.
“We hope that by understanding precisely how brain training works in healthy adults, we can apply the techniques to halt cognitive decline in older adults suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or early stage dementia,” he said.
Healthy adults aged over 60 who have no previous experience with brain training programs and no significant medical illnesses can contact Ben Isbel if they would like to participate.
Mr Isbel’s research was funded by the Judy Henzell Memorial Scholarship.
— Julie Schomberg