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The BBC Brain Training study -- let's flip it around
There's no such thing as bad publicity. This study is being reprinted on every website that has even a remote connection to boomers, seniors, or game-playing or is suffering from a slow news day. (Although you have to wonder how senior housing executives will react to seeing it published in McKnight's). So I am not going to set foot into the quagmire about whether this is a good study or a bad study -- as observed by Alvaro Fernandez of SharpBrains and Steven Aldrich of Posit Science. I will also bet that this study will not slow the cognitive fitness market down, which SharpBrains sizes as $1 billion within 5 years -- you have to work hard to slow a market that fits so well with the fear, uncertainty, and doubt of baby boomers about aging and brain-related impacts. And like all studies (wine is good for you, wine is bad for you, more exercise, but not too much), no doubt there will be another study contradicting it soon enough. Instead, let's turn it around.
Those who surfed the web for general knowledge improved at finding it. Looking at the BBC study news item, let's read this sentence: "A third control group was asked to browse the Internet and seek out answers to general knowledge questions. The results are clear," said Adrian Owen, a neuroscientist at the Medical Research Council, in a statement. "Statistically, there are no significant differences between the improvements seen in participants who played our brain-training games, and those who just went on the Internet for the same length of time."
What's that mean? So let's just assume that surfing the Internet reduces risk of depression, that looking for information online improves your skill at finding it, that taking advantage of access to 62,000 health-related websites makes one a better-informed healthcare consumer, that using connected health technologies can help us 'age well in a connected world' (Cisco). To name just a very few endorsements of Internet access for older adults. What if we use the BBC study to confirm that healthy older adults who surf the web seeking knowledge will get more skilled at doing this if they practice -- and that if they practice, they might learn a new skill, reduce depression, or even connect to other people who share their interests?
That sounds like a GOAL to me. Maybe a computer, a broadband connection (see Project Goal), and some training could help older adults just improve the quality of their lives? What if warding off brain-related problems and decline could be improved simply by access to knowledge and something interesting? Now that Project Goal has launched to improve broadband access and use among older adults in the US, how about its sponsors getting together to launch a baseline study that evaluated all of these factors before and after acquiring broadband access? Who knows, maybe a side effect of that access will turn out to be improved cognitive health?