Home' Rotary Down Under : October 2014 (International) Contents LIFE & LEISURE
44 Issue 566. October 2014
to change your game
ike our appearance, health and
physical stamina, ageing can also take
its toll on our brainpower, zapping
some of its vital functions and slowing
its responsiveness. But imagine if you
could turn back the clock to create
a more active, youthful and responsive brain? While the
research is still in its early days, there is a growing school
of thought that ‘exercising’ or training our brains can help
slow the decline as we get older.
Recent studies in this area of neuroscience and cognitive
psychology show positive signs that stimulating brain
activity over a sustained period of time can potentially
improve awareness, attention span, problem-solving ability
The touted benefits have created a significant amount
of hype and brain training is now a multi-million-dollar
business, with a quick online search finding dozens of
personalised training programs.
Professor of Psychology Robert Wood from Melbourne
University says what is still unknown is whether
improvements in cognitive function then translate into
lasting behavioural changes in everyday life.
Words: Kate McIntosh
There is a growing body of thought
that keeping our minds active into
old age through brain training
games can have significant
benefits in terms of our general
sense of wellbeing, as well as
maintaining positive cognitive
function, particularly around
memory and attention.
This is one of the major aspects Dr Wood will be looking
at as part of a three-year clinical research study, using
anonymous gameplay data generated by users of online
brain-training program Active Memory.
The program was developed by the ABC in partnership
with the University of Melbourne and the Florey Institute
of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and utilises a series
of online games and motivational strategies ascending
in difficulty that users work through at their own pace
according to skill level.
Dr Wood says that maintaining positive cognitive functions
has a direct correlation to older people’s sense of wellbeing
and their ability to live independently and maximise quality
The role of brain training as part of dementia preventative
measures or for treatment of mild forms of depression
is another area that warrants further consideration
The University of Melbourne study is one of the first broad,
long-term studies into how brain training taps into ‘real world’
behaviour and what types of games promote better everyday
use of our cognitive abilities.
The largest study previously conducted in the field was a
pioneering BBC study of 11,000 players in the UK, which
suggested brain-training games do lead to better performance.
A growing number of limited, smaller studies have also
backed the significant body of anecdotal evidence around
the positive benefits flowing from brain-training games,
particularly around memory and attention.
While the results are encouraging, Dr Wood cautions
against drawing definitive conclusions. In a real-life situation,
you’re rarely using one skill at any given time, and that’s why
measuring brain activity remains an extremely complicated
and expensive exercise.
“It (the brain) is a very complex organ. If we compare it
to a map of the world, then the countries, oceans and main
landmarks have all been discovered, but the details of what’s
happening within are not yet known.”
However, there is certainly an important link between lifestyle
factors and brain function in older age. Social isolation, lack of
confidence and inactivity can all lead to a lack of stimulation
and therefore decline in mental abilities, says Dr Wood. Put
simply, “If you don’t use it, you lose it”.
“As people get older they are often not actively engaged
in social networks, and when they start to forget, they start
One of the most exciting recent developments in neuroscience
is around the brain’s plasticity and its capacity for regeneration.
In the past it was thought that brain cells, or neurons, were
simply pruned off as we aged, with no new cells generated
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