Scientists to Stanford: Research Shows Brain Exercises Can Work

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Scientists tell Stanford to look at Cognitive Training Data for the Open Letter

“In doing that review, my colleagues and I spent many months analyzing data from more than 150 publications and concluded that cognitive training can improve cognitive abilities,” Dr. Rebok said.

A group of 127 scientists sent an “open letter” to the Stanford Center for Longevity, today, in reaction to a recent statement by the center that was highly critical of the emerging science of brain training and derogated the efficacy of all brain exercises.

Signatories to the open letter said that they agreed with the parts of the center’s statement critical of brain exercise companies that overstate their claims, however, they believed the center had also overstated its case, in a document it had entitled “A Consensus on the Brain Training Industry from the Scientific Community.”

The open letter strongly disagreed with the statement from the longevity center that “there is no compelling scientific evidence” that brain exercises “offer consumers a scientifically grounded avenue to reduce or reverse cognitive decline.” The open letter noted that there is a large and growing body of evidence that certain brain exercises do deliver benefits, including “dozens of randomized, controlled trials published in peer-reviewed journals."

“Many of these studies show improvements that encompass a broad array of cognitive and everyday activities, show gains that persist for a reasonable amount of time, document positive changes in real-life indices of cognitive health, and employ control strategies designed to account for ‘placebo’ effects,” the open letter said. “While we can debate strengths and limitations of each study, it is a serious error of omission to ignore such studies in a consensus reviewing the state of this science.”

The signatories also took exception to the notion that a group of 69 scientists who signed the longevity center statement would purport to speak for the entire scientific community.

“Given our significant reservations with the statement, we strongly disagree with your assertion that it is a ‘consensus’ from the scientific community,” the open letter said.

The letter is signed by 127 doctors and scientists, many of whom are luminaries in the field of neuroplasticity – the discipline that examines the brain’s ability to change. Signatories include members of the National Academy of Sciences, members of the Institute of Medicine, department chairs and directors of programs and institutes, as well as scientists who are founders of neuroscience companies. The signatories include scientists from 18 countries around the world.

The open letter response was spearheaded by Dr. Michael Merzenich, an elected member of both the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine for his pioneering work demonstrating brain plasticity in adults and applying plasticity in his co-invention of the cochlear implant. Dr. Merzenich is also a co-founder of three companies offering products based on neuroplasticity.

“The authors of the longevity center statement properly concluded that a large body of work has shown there is plasticity throughout the brain and throughout life," Dr. Merzenich noted. “It was rather astounding, then, that this same group failed to notice that we proved that through hundreds of studies showing we can drive positive change in the brain through directed, intensive, computer-guided training. It’s silly that anyone would think that we can make cognitive training that works in labs, but not in people’s homes.”

One of the first people Dr. Merzenich conferred with was Dr. Karlene Ball, Director of the NIH-funded Roybal Center for Research on Applied Gerontology at UAB, and author of more than 200 peer-reviewed publications on the topic of cognitive assessments and training.

“Over the last four decades, I’ve worked with scores of scientists and thousands of generous volunteer participants in scientific studies of cognitive training,” Dr. Ball said. “Those studies show that properly designed brain exercises can drive significant cognitive and quality of life benefits.”

“While a lot of what is being marketed as brain fitness does not work,” Dr. Ball added, “no one should dissuade people from using exercises shown to work in peer-reviewed studies. Those exercises help support better minds, better aging and better lives.”

Dr. George Rebok of Johns Hopkins University has also co-authored many papers in the field and was on a team that conducted, and published, a systematic review of computerized cognitive interventions.

“In doing that review, my colleagues and I spent many months analyzing data from more than 150 publications and concluded that cognitive training can improve cognitive abilities,” Dr. Rebok said. “I declined to sign the longevity center statement because it was not supported by that type of rigorous scientific review, and signed the open letter response, because it is important to accurately state what the research shows.“

“We responded with a letter, because the statement is already on the wrong side of history,” Dr. Merzenich added. “We will continue our response, as scientists, through the scores of additional studies already in the pipeline and the avalanche of studies that will follow.”

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The statement from the Stanford Center for Longevity can be found at: http://stanford.io/1sNFTTF

The full text of the open letter response (with all its signatories), as well as a partial list of studies showing the efficacy of cognitive training can be found at: http://www.cognitivetrainingdata.org

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Peggy Cramer Jara
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