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The US$44m shot at preventing dementia through tech

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US health body the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has pledged US$44m to researchers investigating whether computerised brain training can prevent dementia.

The Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) study, led by the University South Florida in Tampa, builds on previous research which showed promising results.

In 2017, the ACTIVE study found that a small amount of cognitive training significantly reduced the risk and incidence of dementia among older adults.

This new phase, PACT, will seek to involved 7,600 adults to test the impact of computerised brain exercises in reducing the incidence of medical diagnoses of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia.

The computerised brain training will be delivered via the BrainHQ app, made by Posit Science. It is based on the science of brain plasticity – the brain’s ability to rewire itself through learning.

PACT is a large randomised controlled trial due to be completed by 2027.

Participants will be randomised into two training groups, with each group asked to complete 25 hours of brain training over the course of up to five months; and then an additional 10 hours after one year and two years.

Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ, said: “This study addresses the central question that most people have about brain training – does training your brain reduce your chances of dementia?”

The ACTIVE study provided the possible beginnings of an answer in 2017. Those results grabbed headlines worldwide, since it was the first large randomised controlled trial to show an intervention of any kind could be effective in reducing dementia risk and incidence.

Researchers reported an up to 48 per cent reduction in dementia incidence among people who asked to complete up to 18 hours of training and an overall 29 per cent reduction in dementia risk.

A 2020 study in Australia also found a statistically and clinically significant reduction in Alzheimer’s risk from a combined intervention.

This included advice on Alzheimer’s risk reduction, using BrainHQ over an eight-week period, a meeting with a dietician to set up a diet plan and a meeting with a physiologist to set up a physical exercise plan.

It was compared to a control group that received advice on lifestyle risk reduction, brain exercise, diet and physical exercise.

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