The jury is still out on cognitive training systems, a new study finds.

Computer-based “brain training” systems can help memory and thinking skills among seniors, but they do not have an impact on problem solving or impulse control, according to a new study.

Brain training, or computerized cognitive training, involves practicing mentally challenging exercises, and is popular in many senior living communities. 

University of Sydney researchers at the Regenerative Neuroscience Group at the Brain and Mind Research Institute did a meta-analysis involving 51 randomized clinical trials and around 5,000 participants. 

There were different factors related to whether training was effective. The analysis found group-based brain training with a professional trainer helps older adults with their cognitive skills, but self-directed brain training at home has no therapeutic effect. 

Another variable was related to training frequency, they said. 

“Training one to three times a week was effective, but training more than this neutralized any cognitive benefits,” said BMRI’s Amit Lampit, Ph.D., the study’s lead author, noting that brain training is similar to strenuous physical exercise in that patients need rest between sessions.

The researchers cautioned that while brain training can help cognition, it is not a “magic bullet.”

Modest gains should be expected, said Associate Professor Michael Valenzuela, Ph.D.

“We still don’t know if this type of activity can prevent or delay dementia. Much more research is needed,” he said.

Speech subtleties

Scientists at the University of Washington are working to teach computers to recognize not only the words we use but also the myriad meanings, subtleties and attitudes those words can convey. This type of “stance recognition” could help improve all kinds of speech recognition systems, says Valerie Freeman, a doctoral candidate in the department of linguistics at the University of Washington, who recently presented her team’s latest research on the Automatic Tagging and Recognition of Stance (ATAROS) project at an Acoustical Society of American meeting. 

“We’re trying to understand what is it about the way we talk that makes our attitude clear while speaking the words, but not necessarily when we type the same thing,” Freeman said.

In their study, the researchers recorded the voices of 68 people of different ages and backgrounds, all from the Pacific Northwest. When they reviewed the recordings, listening for cues that could reveal the speaker’s stance on a topic, they found that when pairs of people worked together on a task, they tended to speak faster, louder and with “more exaggerated pitches” when they had a strong opinion than when they had a weak one.  

IT plan is out

While physicians and hospitals are the main focus of an updated federal health information technology plan, senior living organizations were also identified as targets of a push into new territory.

The first two goals of the plan prioritize increasing the electronic collection and sharing of health information while protecting individual privacy, according to National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSC. 

The first goal “aims to expand health IT adoption and use efforts across the care continuum, emphasizing assistance for healthcare providers serving senior living, behavioral health, community-based, and other populations ineligible to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentives Programs,” report authors wrote.

Data missing

More analytics are needed for senior living technology, according to comments in a report by Majd Alwan, M.D., executive director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies. The report summarized a September applied research forum on technology and services for older adults, hosted by CAST and the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing. Presenters discussed how technology can help explain human behaviors, and turn data into usable information that can enhance quality of life for seniors.

Net shortage

Not many elderly Americans use the Internet to find appropriate health information, according to University of Michigan researchers. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Around 1,400 Americans 65 years and older answered questions about how often they used the Internet and when they searched for health information.

Eyes have it

A Pac-Man-style “cat and mouse” game helps improve vision in people with a lazy eye and poor depth perception, an Ohio State University study suggests. Researchers found weak-eye vision improved to 20/20 and 20/50 in research participants with lazy eyes whose vision was 20/25 and 20/63, respectively, before the training began. 

Seeing the future

University of Windsor researchers developed software that can generate predictions related to complex systems like epileptic seizures. After examining the electroencephalography readings of 21 patients with epilepsy, they found plugging just a half-hour of readings into their software gave data to provide a 17-minute warning before someone would have a seizure.