The latest exercise trend: brain training

Volume 7, Number 1

In the same way that spring training is intended to whip baseball players into shape for the upcoming season, so can you put your brain through the paces and fend off dementia in old age with a new cognitive training project offered by the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

Called PONDER (Prevention of Neurological Diseases in Everyone at Risk), the
initiative is led by associate professor of psychiatry JENS PRUESSNER, who
points out that the more we use our minds, the less likely we are to, well, lose them.

“Studies show that cognitive training has a significant effect on preserving high
cognitive function in old age. The idea is that the more intellectual capacity you have to begin with, the more of a buffer you have that will prevent you from being afflicted with neurodegeneration or dementia,” he says. “Dementia is like descending a mountain — it takes longer to reach the bottom if you start at 1,000 feet than if you start at 100 feet.”

To start climbing: the PONDER website (ponder.mcgill.ca) offers a series of online
games that progress from encouragingly easy (repeat the sequence of one or two flashing lights as they travel across your screen) to revealingly aggravating (repeat the sequence of seven traveling, flashing lights and realize after three failed attempts that your brain is in some serious need of regular working out). The project encourages participants to register, which gives players access to the full series of games rather than a sample, and which will also allow researchers to create a database of longitudinal cognitive assessments, providing further insight into intervention and treatment of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. So what are you waiting for? Get those neurons firing!

Jens Pruessner’s research is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Fonds de recherche du Qu.bec — Santé and the donors of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging.

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