The Brain Can Improve In Cognitive Capacity

The past few years’ experts have zoned in on techniques and strategies for brain development or cognitive training. Scientific evidence that training the brain can improve cognitive capacity is slowly accumulating. In a recent review the focus was on whether brain training can help adults who are at an increased risk of developing dementia.

Who Is At Increased Risk For Developing Dementia?

Anyone with MCI or mild cognitive impairment is believed to have an increased risk for developing dementia as compared to someone with a normal cognitive status. In fact the risk for people suffering from MCI is quite escalated; up to 15% of such individuals end up diagnosed with dementia compared to just 1-2% of the general population. Hence people with MCI are excellent candidates for preventative cognitive training.

 What Are The Basics Of Cognitive Training?

In a perfect world cognitive training would encompass targeting specific cognitive functions repeatedly, such as memory, processing speed, language, attention, etc. The same pattern with physical training parallels this, focusing on specific muscle groups with the purpose of gained improvements.

This is why most of the studies looking at the effect of cognitive training on brain function use computerized tasks that focus on specific thinking abilities such as auditory processing. Other research studies have looked into the effect of memory strategy training. In these studies, individuals are shown how to use memory techniques to improve their performance.

Is Brain Training Successful?

A recent review composed of 10 studies with 305 MCI participants concluded that:

  •  Memory performance and general cognitive measures are moderately affected by cognitive training.
  • General memory strategies were not as effective as specific computerized cognitive training.In a few studies depressive symptoms were decreased with cognitive training.
  • More training meant more benefits on memory performance, but only following cognitive training and not following memory strategy training.


In sum this review indicates that cognitive exercises can enhance memory performance in individuals with MCI. This strengthens the evidence showing that cognitive training is beneficial, as observed with healthy people.

There are not many high quality studies yet but experts agree there are no harmful side-effects with cognitive training, the opposite of medicinal interventions to slow or deter Alzheimer’s. An excellent reason to start exercising your brain today!


Study reference

Gates, N. J., Sachdev, P. S., Fiatarone Singh M. A., & Valenzuela, M. (2011). Cognitive and memory training in adults at risk of dementia: A Systematic Review. BMC Geriatr.; 11: 55


Last Reviewed: 29-Nov-2012

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Dr. Michelon is a scientist, educator and a writer specializing in brain fitness. She is the Director of The Memory Practice, where she develops challenging cognitive exercises to help adults keep their brain fit. Her latest book is Max Your Memory, a compendium of exercises and techniques to help boost memorization and recall.

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