Large study finds brain training can reduce falls in older adults

It’s fall in your head – new 10-year study demonstrates brain training reduces fall risk.

New results from a large 10-year study show fall risk and incidence in older adults can be significantly reduced through a modest amount of a particular kind of computerized brain training [1]. The brain training used in the research is found exclusively in BrainHQ, a brain training app made by Posit Science.

Longevity.Technology: Falls are a major health concern for older adults, with the incidence of falls increasing with age. This is due to a combination of age-related changes in physical function, including declines in strength, balance and mobility, as well as underlying medical conditions and medications that can affect these factors; in addition, cognitive impairment and decline can also contribute to falls. Falls can have serious consequences for healthspan, including injuries such as fractures and head trauma, as well as psychological impacts such as fear of falling and social isolation. In addition, falls contribute to the development of frailty, a state of increased vulnerability to adverse health outcomes.

With an increasingly older population, falls are becoming a significant public health issue and a burden on healthcare provision. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that each year one in four seniors experiences a fall, resulting in about 3 million emergency room visits with consequences (including hip fractures and brain injuries) costing the health system about $50 billion. Preventive measures, such as exercise programs and medication reviews, are crucial to reducing the incidence of falls and improving health outcomes for older adults. In addition, maintaining cognitive ability through brain training exercises can be an effective strategy to prevent falls among older adults.

Large study finds brain training can reduce falls in older adults
Dr Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science

“While many believe that falls among older adults stem only from physical failures, such as tripping or legs giving way, these new 10-year results from the ACTIVE Study researchers show – for the first time – that rewiring the brain can help people stay on their feet and reduce the number of real-world falls by at-risk seniors,” said Dr Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science.

It turns out that brain speed is a major risk factor for falls. The brain begins to slow down by very small amounts (measured in milliseconds – thousandths of a second) in your 20s. With each passing decade, the slowing grows, but may not be noticeable until one’s 40s or 50s, when you find yourself increasingly pausing to think of a word. The same sort of slowing also impacts your processing speed and reaction time related to movement.

Multiple studies have shown that slower visual processing speed leads to higher fall risk and more injurious falls [2], as well as lower walking safety [3] and lower observed mobility performance [4].

Large study finds brain training can reduce falls in older adults
BrainHQ Double Decision exercise

However, the good news is that scientists have shown that brain processing speed can be improved with the right brain exercises.

The ACTIVE Study enrolled a racially diverse group of 2,802 older adults from six areas of the US. Participants were randomly assigned to a control group or three different cognitive training groups – memory, reasoning or speed-of-processing. Each intervention participant did an hour of training, twice a week, for five weeks at the beginning of the study, and the participants has since been tracked, with the resulting data used in various scientific papers.

The newest results look at the number of falls over 10 years. Participants were surveyed on many topics, including whether they had fallen, and based on those responses, researchers classified participants as low risk (2,360 participants) or high risk (442 participants). Analysis showed no significance difference in fall risk when looking at the low-risk group. However, analysis of the high-risk group showed a significant, 31 percent, lower risk of falls among the speed-of-processing group, as compared to the control. Results of the other two interventions were not deemed significant by the authors [1].

Earlier studies have shown BrainHQ exercises improve key measures of fall risk; for example, a pair of studies showed improvements in mobility (including time to get up from a chair and walk), balance (including standing on one foot), and gait (including walking speed) [5,6]. Those studies predicted BrainHQ exercises would reduce real-world falls – and the authors concluded that the latest results from this large-scale trial confirm that prediction [1].

“Think about losing your balance and starting to fall,” Mahncke explains. “Your head suddenly begins to move through space in a downward direction, alerting your brain’s visual and balance systems that you are about to fall. By speeding up the brain, you get extra time (measurable in split-seconds) to process that information and regain your footing. Extra time can make the difference between staying on your feet – or crashing to the ground.”

BrainHQ has shown benefits in numerous studies. Such benefits include gains in cognition (attention, processing speed, memory, decision making), in quality of life (depressive symptoms, confidence and control, health-related quality of life) and in real-world activities (health outcomes, balance, driving, hearing). Healthcare providers are waking up to the preventative benefits of such cognitive training, and BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, by various national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans, and by medical centers, clinics and communities. In addition, visitors to the BrainHQ website can sign up to try a free BrainHQ exercise daily.


Photograph: flaticon/freepik
Photographs: Posit Science