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Parallel randomized controlled feasibility trials of the “Active Brains” digital intervention to protect cognitive health in adults aged 60–85

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sian RobinsonORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Copyright © 2022 Essery, Pollet, Bradbury, Western, Grey, Denison-Day, Smith, Hayter, Kelly, Somerville, Stuart, Becque, Zhang, Slodkowska-Barabasz, Mowbray, Ferrey, Yao, Zhu, Kendrick, Griffin, Mutrie, Robinson, Brooker, Griffiths, Robinson, Rossor, Ballard, Gallacher, Rathod, Gudgin, Phillips, Stokes, Niven, Little and Yardley.Introduction: Multidomain interventions to address modifiable risk factors for dementia are promising, but require more cost-effective, scalable delivery. This study investigated the feasibility of the “Active Brains” digital behavior change intervention and its trial procedures. Materials and methods: Active Brains aims to reduce cognitive decline by promoting physical activity, healthy eating, and online cognitive training. We conducted 12-month parallel-design randomized controlled feasibility trials of “Active Brains” amongst “lower cognitive scoring” (n = 180) and “higher cognitive scoring” (n = 180) adults aged 60–85. Results: We collected 67.2 and 76.1% of our 12-month primary outcome (Baddeley verbal reasoning task) data for the “lower cognitive score” and “higher cognitive score” groups, respectively. Usage of “Active Brains” indicated overall feasibility and satisfactory engagement with the physical activity intervention content (which did not require sustained online engagement), but engagement with online cognitive training was limited. Uptake of the additional brief telephone support appeared to be higher in the “lower cognitive score” trial. Preliminary descriptive trends in the primary outcome data might indicate a protective effect of Active Brains against cognitive decline, but further investigation in fully-powered trials is required to answer this definitively. Discussion: Whilst initial uptake and engagement with the online intervention was modest, it was in line with typical usage of other digital behavior change interventions, and early indications from the descriptive analysis of the primary outcome and behavioral data suggest that further exploration of the potential protective benefits of Active Brains are warranted. The study also identified minor modifications to procedures, particularly to improve online primary-outcome completion. Further investigation of Active Brains will now seek to determine its efficacy in protecting cognitive performance amongst adults aged 60–85 with varied levels of existing cognitive performance.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Essery R, Pollet S, Bradbury K, Western MJ, Grey E, Denison-Day J, Smith KA, Hayter V, Kelly J, Somerville J, Stuart B, Becque T, Zhang J, Slodkowska-Barabasz J, Mowbray F, Ferrey A, Yao G, Zhu S, Kendrick T, Griffin S, Mutrie N, Robinson S, Brooker H, Griffiths G, Robinson L, Rossor M, Ballard C, Gallacher J, Rathod S, Gudgin B, Phillips R, Stokes T, Niven J, Little P, Yardley L

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Frontiers in Public Health

Year: 2022

Volume: 10

Online publication date: 20/09/2022

Acceptance date: 30/08/2022

Date deposited: 31/10/2022

ISSN (electronic): 2296-2565

Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.


DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2022.962873

PubMed id: 36203694


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Funder referenceFunder name
BB/P019854/1Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Epilepsy Research UK (Celine Newman Bursary)
MR/R005427/1Medical Research Council (MRC)