The National Institutes of Health has awarded almost a half-million dollars to a branch of the YMCA and the makers of a cognitive training app to help develop community-based programs aimed at preventing dementia in older adults.
The NIH’s National Institute on Aging awarded the $465,000 grant to Posit Science, the developers of the BrainHQ app, which plans to partner with the YMCA of San Francisco to develop the Brain Health Program. The program will be based on the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, a curriculum offering classes in diet and exercise aimed at lowering participants’ risk of type 2 diabetes, which has reached more than 300,000 people so far.
Like the DPP, the new Brain Health Program will focus on reducing risk for dementia through behavioral changes. In a statement announcing the program, Posit Science claims 40% of dementia cases come from risk factors that can be reduced by adopting a “brain-healthy lifestyle.” These healthy behavioral changes are what BrainHQ allows its users to engage in, and Posit CEO Henry Mahncke, PhD, said he wants to see this training move into real-world communities.
“We know what people can do to lower risk,” Mahncke said in the statement. “What we’ve lacked is the key step—offering community-based health classes to make this proven science usable in real-world settings. If my mom can sign up for a gym class in her community to keep physically fit, she should be able to sign up for a brain health class in her community to keep cognitively fit. The Diabetes Prevention Program reduced new cases of diabetes by more than 50%, and I believe the Brain Health Program should have a similar effect on dementia.”
If my mom can sign up for a gym class in her community to keep physically fit, she should be able to sign up for a brain health class in her community to keep cognitively fit.
To develop the program, Posit and the YMCA of San Francisco are collaborating with brain health scientists from the University of California San Francisco, a postgraduate-only research university entirely focused on health sciences. Jamie Bruning-Miles, YMCA of San Francisco president and CEO, said the goal is for the program to become a blueprint for dementia prevention in San Francisco and beyond.
“By helping people adopt evidence-based behaviors to reduce dementia risk – such as brain exercise, physical exercise and a brain-healthy diet – we can develop a model program to reduce the impact of cognitive decline and dementia on our community,” Bruning-Miles said in the statement. “We hope this will become an effective program that can be used by community groups everywhere.”
We hope this will become an effective program that can be used by community groups everywhere.
Program development will begin later this year and is slated to be complete by 2023.
Learn more about the app:
BrainHQ is brain-training software from Posit Science that can be accessed online or through a smartphone app. Users can complete 29 different exercises regularly in predetermined programs or at their own pace, similar to exercise machines at a gym. While the new Brain Health Program is aimed specifically at dementia in older adults, the BrainHQ software positions itself more broadly, claiming to help everyday brain function for people of all ages.
Some of the exercises are available for free, while full access requires a subscription. A monthly subscription costs $14 per month, while an annual subscription provides access for a full year for $96. Some public libraries offer BrainHQ software access for free.
BrainHQ claims its benefits are backed up by more than 100 scientific studies. A 2017 study showed regular brain exercises similar to those practiced in BrainHQ reduced participants’ dementia risk by 29%. However, a 2016 analysis of studies on brain-training games like BrainHQ published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest concluded the advertised improvements in everyday brain function (distinct from dementia prevention) may be exaggerated.