Brain Training

Reporter: Andrea Burns

Helen Thornton and Peter Saunders are both 74, with fit bodies many a decade younger would envy. But it's the muscle between their ears they're most keen to keep supple and young. Their brains. "Getting forgetful, how much does hat concern you as you get a little bit older? concerns me a lot"

Helen says "as you get older, you need to work harder, not give up and sit home and relax and rust" For months now, two groups of seniors including Helen and Peter have been combining physical workouts, with computer based brain training.

All part of a pilot programme to gauge whether doing the two activities together increases mental fitness, and might help prevent Alzheimers. "A 30% plus improvement in their brain processing, memory processing, speed, power and accuracy"

David Gribble from Alzheimers Australia says the findings are significant. "What it says to us is that just like physical fitness, you should stay mentally engaged and there's research out there that says that if you're going to do that, then longer term, that's going to reduce the liklihood of you experiencing cognitive decline over time"

Some participants noted they were sleeping better, others were found to have a 40% improvement in their hearing. This is particularly significant in an ageing population. Sounds might go in through our ears, but the brain has to process them for us to know what the sound is. Not only is hearing loss socially isolating, the other benefit of good hearing is a well exercised brain.

"After the first few weeks, the feedback we got was fantastic" Nathan Trengrave, from the Council of the Ageing, "they were starting to remember shopping lists a little bit better, a lot of people that were shopping on the internet didn't have to get their credit card out to type in the number because they were able to remember it"

An exercise physiologist, Nathan says we know we have to "use it or lose it" when it comes to our bodies, but it's the same with the brain. And if that goes, it's their independence that people also lose. "I see a lot of people in regards to their families are finding it hard to get off work because mum or dad has had a fall or something's happenned and I guess keeping mentally active as well as physically active is going to take that burden off the family and the health care system so I guess it'a win win situation"

The other win - the workout regime didn't have to be relentless to be effective. One group did the activities five days a week for 8 weeks, the other did them twice a week for 20 weeks, but, on average, both groups reported the same results. "We've got over 600 participants using the programme in western australia and obviously our aim is to try and get it into other organisations so that they can get their memberships to use it - retirement villages, public libraries should be accessing this, local councils" Already, American health insurers fund similar programmes after finding people who do brain training make fewer claims. Helen and Peter say they feel brighter, more alert, more alive.At 74, that's great. Helen says "I feel as though I'm going somewhere"Peter says "it's like preventative medicine"

Further details

The computer programme is for sale from Alzheimers Australia WA for four hundred and ninety dollars.

Contact details

Alzheimer's Australia WA

Main Office (Shenton Park)

Location: Mary Chester Centre9 Bedbrook PlaceShenton Park WA 6008

Post Office Address:PO Box 1509Subiaco WA 6904

Hours of Business:8.00 am to 5.30 pm

Monday to Friday

Dementia Helpline: (Freecall) 1800 100 500

www.alzheimers.asn.au