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 Post subject: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:05 pm 
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I've seen a couple of references to the benefits of twisty puzzles as brain exercise (and one of my work colleagues assures me that I will never develop dementia), but I wonder if there is any scholarly or reputable research that supports this idea. It makes common sense, but is there some authoritative research to cite?

Given an aging population world-wide, I can see that twisty puzzling has a lot of potential if there are measurable benefits to brain health. I can envision larger cubes and brighter colours (or textures) being marketed specifically at elders (seniors). Puzzles that are operated by the entire body would be even more desirable as I do worry about how much time I spend sitting while puzzling.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:09 pm 
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I think most of it is hyperbole - unproven advertising claims to promote products.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 4:29 pm 
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It's mostly marketing. Studies that try to find cognitive improvements from brain exercises find weak or no correlation in improvement.

For example:
http://www.time.com/time/health/article ... 06,00.html

Solving twisty puzzles makes you better at twisty puzzles. The benefits outside the twisty realm are either minor or non-existent.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 5:08 pm 
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To be honest these kind of claims should not be made. Pharmaceutical companies get fined billions of dollars for making unverified claims that have not been scientifically proven in comprehensive, well-controlled clinical trials.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 5:12 pm 
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bmenrigh wrote:
It's mostly marketing. Studies that try to find cognitive improvements from brain exercises find weak or no correlation in improvement.
Thanks for the article, that was very helpful and will give me something worthwhile to say the next time I get asked this question.

bmenrigh wrote:
Solving twisty puzzles makes you better at twisty puzzles.
Next you're going to tell me I don't even have to be a genius to solve twisty puzzles :mrgreen: :scrambled: .

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 7:34 pm 
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Uwe Meffert has done extensive research on that topic, and when we first met he told me that even playing with the puzzles (without even trying to solve them) is beneficial. I also wrote a (non-academic) paper for the Gathering for Gardner about the real-life benefits of Twisty Puzzles and it included a reference on the brain benefits of playing with puzzles. In general, it is claimed (and possibly assumed) that playing with puzzles and doing crosswords or other "brainy" pastimes is good for the brain, though the 'real' claim (in my opinion) is that it helps slow brain conditions of the aging such as dementia and Alzheimer's (this is, in fact, based on scientific research to some extend). I don't have time right now to find that bit of research (the paper is on my other computer) but I will try to find it (and others) within the next few days (if I don't remember by Wednesday, perhaps someone could PM me to remind me? Thanks).

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:19 pm 
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quicksolver wrote:
...even playing with the puzzles (without even trying to solve them) is beneficial ... playing with puzzles and doing crosswords or other "brainy" pastimes is good for the brain ... helps slow brain conditions of the aging such as dementia and Alzheimer's (this is, in fact, based on scientific research to some extend).


I would be very wary of these claims, and astonished if any of them have been substantiated scientifically. Having worked as a scientist studying Alzheimer's disease, I know that the disease takes many years to develop, and it develops at different rates in different people. Therefore very big clinical trials with several hundred to a few thousand patients supervised over many years would be required to substantiate these claims with any statistical significance. Considering that it would cost several hundred million dollars to run such a trial, and nobody owns any patent on the idea of training the brain to benefit from investing in such a trial, I doubt very much that anyone has done a proper study. Even the big pharma companies are now starting to shy away from developing drugs for Alzherimer's disease, despite the huge potential market, simply because the trials are far too risky and expensive to get conclusive data.

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Last edited by KelvinS on Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:24 pm 
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Woohoo! I have more time than I thought that I would, so I used my basic University databse access to pull some files. Sadly, many will not be able to access the individual files, so I can only give you some references like the following from EBSCO Business source Premier:

Hensrud D. Alzheimer's Unease. Fortune [serial online]. October 28, 2002;146(8):226. Available from: Business Source Premier, Ipswich, MA. Accessed July 15, 2012.

Or this one, from Cambridge University Press:

Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society (2011), 17, 1006–1013.
Copyright E INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2011.
doi:10.1017/S1355617711001111

(That one might be slightly more accessable). Here's one that's a bit more chewy (you have to sort through a lot of extra words to get to the good data):

de la Torre, J. C. (2012), A turning point for Alzheimer's disease?. BioFactors, 38: 78–83. doi: 10.1002/biof.200

And finally:

"Research Brief: Puzzles and Alzheimer's." GP 1 Feb. 2012: 09. Health Reference Center Academic. Web. 15 July 2012.

The full text of the above: "Doing word puzzles may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a US study suggests. Researchers used brain scans to show that those who were kept mentally stimulated had lower levels of amyloid plaques linked to the disease (Arch Neurology Online 2012). "

Basically, mental activity can help with the prevention of disorders like Alzheimer's, but there are no absolute prevention benefits (genetics make sure of that). Therefore, the operative term is "can". There is no research that puts one form of mental activity over any other.


Attachments:
G4G_paper.pdf [260.1 KiB]
Downloaded 48 times

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:32 pm 
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I'm still highly skeptical, but great that you found these references. The one that looks most interesting (quoted in the footnote of your article) is the following, published in Neurology which is supposed to be a decent journal (papers have been through critical peer review):

C. B. Hall, Ph.D., R. B. Lipton, M.D., M. Sliwinski, Ph.D., et al: "Cognitive Activities Delay Onset of Memory Decline in Persons Who Develop Dementia." Neurology, Volume 73, pages 356-361, August, 2009

Would be great to read this, if you can get a copy? Then we can judge how rigorous was the study: method, duration, number of subjects, statistical significance of results, etc. ... :wink:

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:38 pm 
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I love Universities :D Mine has access to all sorts of databases, and I found the article. Here's the full text, as a PDF attachment.


Attachments:
Alzheimer's Research.pdf [470.06 KiB]
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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:47 pm 
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Thanks! I have to say it looks pretty solid on first skim through: good number of patients, solid stats, etc.

Now for the fine tooth comb... :wink:

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 8:58 pm 
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OK, here's the key bit (top of p. 359), and possible sting in the tail:

Quote:
Each additional activity day of participation in cognitively stimulating leisure activities at baseline delayed the onset of accelerated memory decline in subjects who developed dementia by 0.18 years. However, once the decline began, the rate of decline was 0.14 SRT points per year more rapid for each additional activity day in those subjects. Our work is consistent with previous findings that participation in cognitive activities is associated with reduced rates of cognitive decline in healthy elderly but with more rapid cognitive decline in persons with AD

...meaning that doing cognitive exercises can delay the onset (first appearance) of dementia by just 2 months (not very significant at all), and then appears to *accelerate* its progression!

The authors then go on to suggest that this may be due to cognitive exercises simply "masking" the initial appearance of dementia, rather than a fundamental physiological change:

Quote:
This would also support the conjecture that the mechanism behind cognitive reserve is the development of compensatory processes in response to participation in cognitive activities that mask the effects of brain damage from dementia pathology until some damage threshold is passed, rendering the compensation ineffective. Further evidence for this is that participation in cognitively stimulating leisure activities was not associated with a delay in the age of diagnosis of dementia.

So not very compelling after all. Would be interesting to read the high profile Nature paper cited by bmenrigh above, for comparison.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 9:57 pm 
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The brain is a very complicated thing and it's hard to directly measure a person's cognitive abilities. That's one of the reasons why even though IQ tests are poor measures of actual intelligence, they're still one of the better methods we have.

Most studies of the brain look at more directly measurable traits. For example, they'll measure amyloid plaques, fibrillar and amorphous deposits, dopamine levels, etc.

The trouble with these is that they themselves are not a measure of the quality of cognition but thought (or known) to be linked.

Take amyloid plaques for example:

Quote:
Although the details of the relationship between protein deposition and neurodegeneration are not clear, it is thought that the aggregation process plays an important role in impairing neuronal function, ultimately leading to neuronal death.
Rajagopalan, S., and Andersen, J. (2001) Alpha synuclein aggregation: is it the toxic gain of function responsible for neurodegeneration in Parkinson's disease? Mech. Ageing Dev. 122, 1499–1510


Medicine and biology are particularly difficult areas of science because it is hard to design repeatable experiments and control for every external factor or bias. When it comes to brain exercises such as twisty puzzles or other activities, people want it to be true which has a tendency to exaggerate statistical significance due to the look-elsewhere-effect.

I think it's great research is being done in this area but so far the results are definitely inconclusive. For every paper that suggests a statistical link there is another paper that sees no statistical link. There is also a continuing trend in certain medications that suggest they are either getting less effective or our studies for measuring their effectiveness are getting better at controlling for other factors and eliminating biases -- and thereby causing an effect that was measured to go away. For example, many of the modern antidepressants (SSRIs) are statistically no better than placebos in modern studies. If they were trying to seek FDA approval today there is no way they would get it. There are so many potential explanations for this phenomena they are too numerous to list here. I bring it up because I think it illustrates that studies of people (which are complex systems) is REALLY HARD.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Sun Jul 15, 2012 10:26 pm 
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Amyloid plaques have been shown to be non-toxic and do not correlate with the areas of damage. Instead, there is now compelling evidence that a toxic soluble oligomeric intermediate of amyloid peptide aggregation in the formation of these plaques is to blame: they form pore-like structures that puncture holes in the cell membranes, thus causing calcium leakage, aberrant cell signalling, hyperphosphorylation, metabolic and oxidative stress, inflammation, and ultimately apoptosis (cell death). When only a few amyloid pores form, the cell can cope by ramping up its metabolism, but then a tipping point is reached when equilibrium cannot be maintained. It's like trying to keep a bath tub filled with water while these toxic soluble oligomeric forms of amyloid are puncturing more and more holes in the tub (cell membrane): eventually the outflow will exceed the maximum inflow, so the cells burn themselves out trying to keep up.

Amazingly, exactly the same thing happens in type II diabetes, Parkinson's disease, motor neuron disease (ALS), CJD, Huntington's Disease, and about 20 other ageing related diseases. It's exactly the same molecular mechanism in each case, but different proteins or peptides aggregate to form very similar pores in different parts of the brain or body, thus causing different diseases and symptoms.

For example, a peptide hormone called amylin aggregates to form toxic pores in the pancreas in the case of type II diabetes. A protein called alpha-synuclein aggregates to form toxic pores in the substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease. Another protein called superoxide dismutase aggregates to form toxic pores in ALS. And a protein called huntingtin aggregates to form toxic pores in Huntington's disease. Really these are fundamentally the same disease, unlike cancer which we think of as one disease, but is in fact many different diseases with very different molecular mechanisms. I did all my PhD research on this stuff about 15 years ago.

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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:40 am 
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There was a study which tried using a few thinkfun puzzles and games like connect4 on underprivileged youth, and found a notable boost in IQ in a short period of time.
http://academictech.doit.wisc.edu/blogs ... mes-and-iq


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 Post subject: Re: References for the Brain Benefits of Twisty Puzzles
PostPosted: Thu Jul 26, 2012 6:53 am 
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Bram wrote:
There was a study which tried using a few thinkfun puzzles and games like connect4 on underprivileged youth, and found a notable boost in IQ in a short period of time.
http://academictech.doit.wisc.edu/blogs ... mes-and-iq


And here's a more direct link - http://www.nurtureshock.com/IQLeaps.pdf


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