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Could computerised brain training reduce falls in older adults?

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The firm behind brain training app BrainHQ is working with the US government to measure the impact of computerised brain exercises on fall incidence in older adults.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded a competitive grant to Posit Science, the maker of the BrainHQ brain training app.

The newly-funded study will measure the impact of BrainHQ computerised brain exercises on fall incidence among older adults.

More than one out of four older adults fall each year, making falls the leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among people older than 65.

The grant funds a new approach to preventing falls based on a new understanding of the importance of brain’s visual speed and accuracy in maintaining gait and balance.

Five prior studies using BrainHQ technology have shown this connection, including three that measured the relationship between fall risk and visual cognitive abilities, and two trials showing BrainHQ exercises significantly improved measures of balance and gait; both among predominately white, residents of up-scale retirement communities, and among older African-American residents of Chicago’s South Side.

The entire study will be conducted remotely.

Participants across the US will enroll in the study on the web, and then will be shipped an Apple Watch and provided with the BrainHQ cloud-based brain training program.

Researchers will monitor their training remotely, and use Apple Watch features – including fall detection – to track balance and mobility.

“Many people are surprised to learn that doing visual training exercises on a computer can improve balance and gait,” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science.

“However, it’s not that surprising when you understand that falls among the elderly are not generally caused by physical issues, but rather by the slowing— with age — of reaction times of the brain’s visual systems, which are constantly monitoring conditions and adjusting movement to keep you on your feet.

“Even a momentary glitch in those systems is what causes most falls,” Dr. Mahncke continued.

“But now, we know that training with BrainHQ exercises can improve the brain’s speed and accuracy and strengthen the operation of balance and gait.

“This new study will go further than the prior studies to measure actual real-time fall incidence and to administer the entire study remotely,” Dr. Mahncke continued.

“The results will contribute greatly toward making effective fall risk programs for health plans and community-based programs.”

More than 100 published studies of the exercises in BrainHQ have shown benefits, including gains in standard measures of cognition, quality of life and in real world activities.

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