The Question

This App Could Help Alzheimer's Patients Regain Their Memory

It happens to (almost) all of us. The older you get, the slower your brain. Sometimes it just completely fails when you're trying to think of an acquaintance's name. Other times, it's a little more serious. Now, a new study suggests that patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease might be able to train themselves to remember more, and all that research is coming together in this puzzle-solving memory app.

A Workout For Your Noggin

The study worked like this. Researchers randomly selected 42 patients with mild cognitive impairment and amnesia symptoms. One half of those patients continued attending their appointments as usual. The other half was given a smartphone app called Game Show to play over the course of four weeks. The result? The ones with the game did much better overall against their business-as-usual companions. They made about a third fewer errors, needed fewer trials to land on the right answer, and improved their memory by about 40 percent.

This wasn't the first time members of this research team explored using apps to treat mental illness. Game Show co-inventor Barbara Sahakian is also responsible for the phone game Wizard. In 2015, that game was successfully used to treat memory loss in people with schizophrenia. It's a pretty ingenious way to "hack" your brain into being better. As Sahakian says, the most important part is making sure subjects actually want to play. "Our game allowed us to individualize a patient's training program and make it fun."

An example of a memory game on the Peak App.

The Games For A Better Brain

If interactive memory games can be so effective for people with mild cognitive impairment, then it stands to reason that they'll be just as good for people who don't have any such disability. Though Game Show hasn't been released for the public yet, anybody can start improving their memory with a game of Wizard by downloading Peak on iTunes or Google Play. Peak is a suite of brain games developed exactly for this purpose, and yes, Barbara Sahakian is behind it as well. It all just goes to show how important play is for a healthy brain — even (or especially) as that brain grows older.

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Written by Reuben Westmaas July 20, 2017

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