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Cognitive training - The brain should also go to the gym



Ageing is an inevitable process that we face throughout our lives. Many factors can be a target of ageing process of our body, namely our cognitive functions. Behind a cognitive decline there may be the development of a psychopathological condition such as a type of dementia. Some of the signs to look out for are forgetting how to use a certain object or how to get to a familiar place, not remembering parts of the story about an important event, or even gaps in the description of what one did during the day.


As there is no cure for ageing, science has been focusing on all the good examples of ageing, both physical and cognitive, looking in detail at the protective factors that can be adopted in a person's lifestyle in order to prevent marked ageing.

Our brain is a real "machine" which has the capacity to change and adapt throughout life (neuroplasticity), depending on the type of event we experience. However, physical exercise and cognitive stimulation are two favourable focuses for its development.


Throughout our day we obviously carry out tasks which involve cognitive stimulation, such as memorising the list of ingredients to buy at the supermarket, knowing our mobile phone number, managing to associate road signs with the rule they represent, etc. However, it should be stressed that it is also possible to establish a sequence of tasks which, if repeated frequently, will serve as an additional aid to slow down our cognitive decline.

This is how intervention through cognitive training arises, which is normally integrated into digital platforms, in which it is possible to interact with numerous games that stimulate each of the domains of cognitive functions (orientation, attention, memory, calculation, language, reasoning, executive functions, among others).

One example is Cogweb (https://www.cogweb.pt/), an online platform which allows the performance of a wide range of exercises. This tool is under specialised supervision and is aimed at the different cognitive domains mentioned and at different age groups.

Another platform with scientific evidence is BrainHQ (https://v4.brainhq.com/), which includes exercises working on five main categories (attention, processing speed, memory, social skills and intelligence).


On a more practical level, literature has shown that daily training involving arithmetic and reading exercises has positive effects on our mental processing speed.

Also, numerous studies have proven the effect of cognitive training, both through the results of neuropsychological evaluations and through neuroimaging data, in which it has been possible to verify that cognitive training induces certain activations in important parts of our brain. These activations, sustained over the long term, constitute a significant benefit for older people.

In a society where the population is increasingly ageing, and given that there are conditions for a person to live longer, it is necessary to adopt routines that protect our cognitive capacities and allow us to age more in a healthier way and with greater quality of life.


References:

Bherer L. (2015). Cognitive plasticity in older adults: Effects of cognitive training and physical exercise. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1337, 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.12682

Gates, N., Valenzuela, M. (2010). Cognitive exercise and its role in cognitive function in older adults. Current Psychiatry Reports, 12, 20–27. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-009-0085-y

Kawashima R. (2013). Mental exercises for cognitive function: Clinical evidence. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health, 46, 22–27. https://doi.org/10.3961/jpmph.2013.46.S.S22

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