RESISTING THE URGE TO BE A SUDOKU DROPOUT
Neuropsychology Laboratory at uOttawa is recruiting participants for research on brain training. We are looking for adults aged 60+.
It is March 22, 2016, and I have just finished the preliminary session for a uOttawa neuropsychology study on brain training for adults 60-plus.
I’ve spent nearly two hours doing mental exercises and answering questions on forms about my mental and physical health. Boy, do I feel dumb. I answered “not at all” when asked if I ever do Sudoku or other brain games like Lumosity. I guess I should have been doing them.
I was lousy at deciding which coloured shapes went best with others, memorizing long lines of words and numbers, and remembering which words were in two separate lists. I like to think I have good “emotional” memory; I remember what people I know did, wore and said. I do not remember their phone numbers.
The stated purpose of the study was to evaluate the neural and behavioural effects of a computer-training program in adults. It will be interesting to see if my abilities improve.
My participation is required at least five times a week for 40-minute computer sessions at home for five weeks, once a week at the lab at uOttawa, plus two assessment sessions at the university, one before beginning and one after the computer sessions are complete.
The next session is, appropriately, on April Fool’s Day at 1 p.m., when I do my first stressful Sudoku session in the uOttawa lab under supervision.
I continue with 40-minute Sudoku games on my home computer and then return to the university April 8 for another lab session. I don’t feel I’m getting any better, but Raphaelle Robidoux of the Neuropsychology Laboratory of the School of Psychology seems pleased.
The weeks go on, and to my absolute surprise, about half way through my five weeks, I actually improve at Sudoku! I move myself up from Easy to Medium and I experience the Ping! of success as the gold coins pour down on the screen.
The Sudoku training is done, and I return at 10 a.m. on May 9 for the followup testing. I wonder if I’ll be any better at the exercises. But no matter what, I’m proud that I wasn’t a Sudoku School dropout.
I think I was a bit better on the exercises, but what really surprised me was that a few days after the study was finished, I was much better at Sudoku. The uOttawa games website was still open, and my password still worked. I could go in and play Sudoku, and suddenly it was all clicking together, although too late for the study.
The study by Dr. Sheida Rabipour and Dr. Patrick Davidson was called “Neuropyschological influences on cognitive training in aging,” and they have just released their results.
They said that the motivation for their study was that despite an estimated 36 million individuals affected by dementia, treatment options are nevertheless scarce and limited in effectiveness. A promising alternative involved training cognitive functions, including memory and attention. Despite the promise of brain training, some studies have found contradictory effects and some have shown that brain training does not benefit thought and behaviour, or that any benefits are temporary.
Therefore they wanted to better understand the behavioural effects of a particular brain training program that had a promising design, and they wanted to study the impact of that program combined with the impact of people’s perception of the program on mental function and well-being.
All participants were placed in one of four groups that received specific interventions. When the study had been completed, it showed similar performances on their tests of memory and cognitive performance, as well as self-reported perceptions of performance and well-being in all groups. When there was some improvement after training (compared to baseline) it was similar in all groups, and often those improvements were not statistically meaningful.
Overall, they did not find a great benefit of training with either program or of receiving any kind of information beforehand in the context of that study. They did note that in general, all of their participants were highly educated, highly motivated and in relatively good health, with habits and lifestyles already aligning with their recommendations for successful aging.
While the results they have shared are preliminary, they have just completed a followup study looking at other outcomes, including patterns of electrical brain activity. They hope to have the first results of that study analyzed within the upcoming months.
As another resource, there’s a forthcoming book on brain training that Dr. Rabipour wrote with Dr. Amir Raz, a professor at McGill University and UC Irvine. It is called “How (Not) to Train the Brain” and is currently in production at Oxford University Press and expected to be released late 2018 or early 2019.
If you’d like more information or to take part in a future study at the Neuropsychology Laboratory at the uOttawa School of Psychology, email neuropsychologylab.nict@ uottawa.ca.