RIGHT NOW, GENE GILMER is as sharp as ever at 90 years of age. A retired school superintendent who earned his doctorate in math decades ago, Gilmer lives alone. He worries about losing the memories that defined his life. That’s part of the reason he enrolled in an unusual clinical trial.


The treatment being tested: Conversation. Four times a week for a half-hour each time, he taps a button on a tablet computer. And talks face-to-face with a research assistant. The conversation is invariably pleasant, always a half hour in length, and curiously themed.

“A lot of the questions seem to reflect back to when I was a lot younger,” he said. “They seem to be testing my memory.”

Testing – not quite. But targeting? Definitely. Researchers are conducting a study to see if regular conversation can stave off dementia.

Conversational Clinical Trial

Known as the Internet-based Conversational Clinical Trial, or I-CONECT, the project connects socially isolated seniors for regular half-hour conversations with trained conversationalists through online video chat. Previous pilot studies showed promising results, clearing the way for the National Institute on Aging to fund the full[1]scale clinical trial that’s now underway.

“This could be an actual clinical intervention your doctor would prescribe. Like exercise for a healthy heart,” said Jacob Lindsley, a senior research assistant in the OHSU Layton Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease Centre.

Social isolation is a major problem for seniors. A recent report by the Lancet Commission noted that 2.3 percent of dementia cases could be prevented by reducing social isolation.

The conversations aren’t just shooting the breeze. That is why research assistants lead participants through conversations that are specifically designed to exercise areas of the brain. Mainly, associated with abstract thought, memory and higher-level executive functioning skills.

Final Words

Researchers demonstrated in a 2014 study that seniors who participated in video chats significantly improved in some cognitive tests. Whereas, compared to a control group that did not engage in video chats.

So there you go, Silvers. Video chatting is actually good for your brain. Call up a mate and off you go! ■

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