A new scientific study suggests that brain training games can reduce the risk of dementia by nearly 30 per cent. So should we all be taking up Sudoku? Here’s what the research revealed

Brain training hit the headlines last week when a lengthy ten-year study seemed to reveal a rather astonishing statistic; that people who play a particular type of brain training game are 29 per cent less likely to develop dementia.

The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Translational Research & Clinical Interventions, caused understandable excitement. The game in question was a computer-based brain training programme designed to speed up people’s visual information processing, for example by having them spot a car on a screen and a truck on the periphery of their vision at the same time. Participants who played the game regularly (twice a week for five weeks, each session lasting for one hour) seemed to benefit the most from it, reducing their chance of developing dementia by a remarkable 29 per cent.

However, some doctors and researcher are concerned that the study – although large – was not far-reaching enough, and believe that the results should be treated with caution. ‘Overall, it’s an important study that adds to the appeal of specific brain training, but further rigorous research is necessary before the specific claim by the authors could be substantiated,’ says Dr Sujoy Mukerjee Old Age, Consultant Psychiatrist.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s reaction was similar. ‘We’re lacking high quality evidence to show that brain training has any impact on the risk of dementia, and based on current studies can’t recommend people take it up,’ says research manager Clare Walton.

The arguments for and against brain training aren’t new. Whilst some studies claim it improves long term cognitive ability, others suggest it’s no more effective than stimulating activities such as doing a word search or taking up a new hobby.

Manufacturers of brain training products and games will always be keen to use research that might improve their sales, but they need to be careful. Two years ago, a respected brain training app was fined $2million for misleading its customers by suggesting their games could stave off memory loss without having enough science to back it up.

Whilst scientists and manufacturers continue their search for more definitive proof one way or another, one fact remains undisputed: The most effective way to reduce dementia risk – and to improve life after a dementia diagnosis – is through lifestyle changes. This includes activities that stimulate the brain, (puzzles or crosswords can be very absorbing), or by learning a new skill or language. It also involves eating a healthy diet rich in fruit, vegetables and oily fish, giving up smoking and getting plenty exercise. As the old saying goes, a little bit of everything does you good.

Tip: If you’re looking for a low-cost way to stimulate their mind and memory take a look at Unforgettable’s unique new puzzle book Puzzles & Pastimes, which is specially designed for people with dementia. For more information go here