Computerised cognitive training for maintaining cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in late life

Nicola J Gates, Anne Ws Rutjes, Marcello Di Nisio, Salman Karim, Lee-Yee Chong, Evrim March, Gabriel Martínez, Robin Wm Vernooij
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2019 March 13, 3: CD012277

BACKGROUND: Increasing age is associated with a natural decline in cognitive function and is also the greatest risk factor for dementia. Cognitive decline and dementia are significant threats to independence and quality of life in older adults. Therefore, identifying interventions that help to maintain cognitive function in older adults or to reduce the risk of dementia is a research priority. Cognitive training uses repeated practice on standardised exercises targeting one or more cognitive domains and is intended to maintain optimum cognitive function. This review examines the effect of computerised cognitive training interventions lasting at least 12 weeks on the cognitive function of healthy adults aged 65 or older.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the effects of computerised cognitive training interventions lasting at least 12 weeks for the maintenance or improvement of cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in late life.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched to 31 March 2018 in ALOIS ( and performed additional searches of MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, CINAHL,, and the WHO Portal/ICTRP ( to ensure that the search was as comprehensive and as up-to-date as possible, to identify published, unpublished, and ongoing trials.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and quasi-RCTs, published or unpublished, reported in any language. Participants were cognitively healthy people, and at least 80% of the study population had to be aged 65 or older. Experimental interventions adhered to the following criteria: intervention was any form of interactive computerised cognitive intervention - including computer exercises, computer games, mobile devices, gaming console, and virtual reality - that involved repeated practice on standardised exercises of specified cognitive domain(s) for the purpose of enhancing cognitive function; duration of the intervention was at least 12 weeks; cognitive outcomes were measured; and cognitive training interventions were compared with active or inactive control interventions.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We performed preliminary screening of search results using a 'crowdsourcing' method to identify RCTs. At least two review authors working independently screened the remaining citations against inclusion criteria. At least two review authors also independently extracted data and assessed the risk of bias of included RCTs. Where appropriate, we synthesised data in random-effect meta-analyses, comparing computerised cognitive training (CCT) separately with active and inactive controls. We expressed treatment effects as standardised mean differences (SMDs) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs). We used GRADE methods to describe the overall quality of the evidence for each outcome.

MAIN RESULTS: We identified eight RCTs with a total of 1183 participants. Researchers provided interventions over 12 to 26 weeks; in five trials, the duration of intervention was 12 or 13 weeks. The included studies had a moderate risk of bias. Review authors noted a lot of inconsistency between trial results. The overall quality of evidence was low or very low for all outcomes.We compared CCT first against active control interventions, such as watching educational videos. Because of the very low quality of the evidence, we were unable to determine any effect of CCT on our primary outcome of global cognitive function or on secondary outcomes of episodic memory, speed of processing, executive function, and working memory.We also compared CCT versus inactive control (no interventions). Negative SMDs favour CCT over control. We found no studies on our primary outcome of global cognitive function. In terms of our secondary outcomes, trial results suggest slight improvement in episodic memory (mean difference (MD) -0.90, 95% confidence interval (CI) -1.73 to -0.07; 150 participants; 1 study; low-quality evidence) and no effect on executive function (SMD -0.08, 95% CI -0.31 to 0.15; 292 participants; 2 studies; low-quality evidence), working memory (MD -0.08, 95% CI -0.43 to 0.27; 60 participants; 1 study; low-quality evidence), or verbal fluency (MD -0.11, 95% CI -1.58 to 1.36; 150 participants; 1 study; low-quality evidence). We could not determine any effects on speed of processing at trial endpoints because the evidence was of very low quality.We found no evidence on quality of life, activities of daily living, or adverse effects in either comparison.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: We found little evidence from the included studies to suggest that 12 or more weeks of CCT improves cognition in healthy older adults. However, our limited confidence in the results reflects the overall quality of the evidence. Inconsistency between trials was a major limitation. In five of the eight trials, the duration of intervention was just three months. The possibility that longer periods of training could be beneficial remains to be more fully explored.

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