To keep your brain sharp, experts tell us to learn a new language or do something like crossword puzzles. But a new government-funded study adds to growing research that playing cognitive computer games can slow and even reverse age-related memory issues.
Remembering faces, names or where you put your keys are struggles for people with mild cognitive impairment.
One woman, who's embarrassed about her condition and didn't want to be identified, is in the first stages of Alzheimer's. She took part in a study that tested whether cognitive rehabilitation can improve memory.
"If I had three words, I wouldn't be able to remember those three words. It would confuse me," she said.
In one exercise, a therapist asked a series of questions to help the patient learn where an object is placed. Other exercises focused on matching a facial feature with a person's name.
"You could do the bushy facial hair, and 'Bushy Ben' would be an example of that," said Benjamin M. Hampstead, a clinical neuropsychologist.
For one study, patients received three training sessions and had two MRI scans. After the cognitive rehab, certain areas of their brains were much more active.
"So their brains remain plastic. They're capable of learning these new techniques," said Hampstead.
Up to 20 percent of people 65 and older have mild cognitive impairment. Between one-third and two-thirds will go on to develop dementia or Alzheimer's. But Hampstead says starting therapy earlier can make a difference.
"Hopefully, we'll be able to prolong their functioning for as long as possible," said Hampstead.