A few brain training sessions may help seniors stay sharp for a decade.
Older adults who trained with brief courses of brain exercises showed improvements in reasoning ability and speed-of-processing when compared with untrained controls participants as long as 10 years after the course ended. These gains were even greater for those who got additional “booster” sessions over the next three years. Older adults who received brief cognitive training also reported that they had less difficulty in performing important everyday tasks.
The findings, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, offer welcome news in the search for ways to fight cognitive decline prevalence in older adults as it can seriously affect quality of life. Keeping the mind sharp is a great concern as 76 million baby boomers in the United States advance into old age.
At the start of the study, all 2,832 seniors were cognitively normal and had an average age of 73.6 years.
They were divided into four groups. One group received no brain training, while the others were each trained in a specific mental ability during 10 sessions over five to six weeks:
- The memory group learned strategies for retaining word lists, sequences of items and details from stories.
- The reasoning group learned how to solve problems that follow patterns, such as filling in blanks from series of numbers or letters.
- The speed-of-processing group used a computer program that trained them to identify and locate visual information quickly, including looking up phone numbers and reacting to changes in traffic while driving.
After five years, researchers found those with the training performed better than their untrained participants in three cognitive areas: processing speed, memory and reasoning ability.
Memory performance improved up to five years following the intervention, but there was no longer a significant difference between trained participants and controls at 10 years. Notably, gains in reasoning and speed-of-processing remained 10 years after the training in trained participants.
Trained participants also reported that they had an easier time with daily activities such as managing their medications, cooking meals or handling their finances than untrained participants. However standard tests of these activities showed no differences between the groups.
At the end of the trial, all groups showed declines compared with their initial baseline tests in memory, reasoning and processing speed, but those who received training in reasoning and processing speed experienced less decline.
The results support the idea that people can receive brain training that will keep them sharp as they age, study co-author said.
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