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

Rosie Essery, Sebastien Pollet, Katherine Bradbury, Max J. Western, Elisabeth Grey, James Denison-Day, Kirsten A. Smith, Victoria Hayter, Joanne Kelly, Jane Somerville, Beth Stuart, Taeko Becque, Jin Zhang, Joanna Slodkowska-Barabasz, Fiona Mowbray, Anne Ferrey, Guiqing Yao, Shihua Zhu, Tony Kendrick, Simon GriffinNanette Mutrie, Sian Robinson, Helen Brooker, Gareth Griffiths, Louise Robinson, Martin Rossor, Clive Ballard, John Gallacher, Shanaya Rathod, Bernard Gudgin, Rosemary Phillips, Tom Stokes, John Niven, Paul Little, Lucy Yardley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number962873
JournalFrontiers in Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) under its Programme Grants for Applied Research (Reference Number RP-PG-0615-20014).


  • behavior change
  • cognitive training
  • dementia prevention
  • healthy eating
  • physical activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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