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Researchers have investigated how playing online memory and reasoning games could improve the ability to carry out everyday skills such as shopping and cooking.

A study of people aged 50+ has found that playing online “brain training” games at least five times a week could help keep minds sharp and improve shopping and cooking skills.

The research was carried out at King’s College London and 7000 people were recruited through a partnership with the Alzheimer’s Society and the Medical Research Council, and launched by the BBC for science TV show Bang Goes The Theory.

One group of study participants were encouraged to play online brain training games which tested both reasoning and non-reasoning skills, including planning, problem-solving, short-term memory, attention to detail and interpreting visual information.

The “control” group were asked to do simple internet searchers. The researchers then carried out a series of medically recognised cognitive tests on the participants at three and six months to see if they could detect any difference between the two groups.

The researchers found after six months, those who played “brain training” games for reasoning and problem-solving kept their broader cognitive skills better than those who did not, especially when the games were played at least five times a week.

Improvements were most noticeable in those aged over 60 in their ability to carry out everyday tasks such as shopping and cooking, skills that once dementia kicks in, can start to decline.

Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘Online brain training is rapidly growing into a multi-million pound industry and studies like this are vital to help us understand what these games can and cannot do.

‘While this study wasn’t long enough to test whether the brain training package can prevent cognitive decline or dementia, we’re excited to see that it can have a positive impact on how well older people perform essential everyday tasks.’

The researchers are now starting a longer trial to see if certain brain training games could help to prevent the development of dementia.