Older Adults See Long-Lasting Cognitive Benefits From Brain Training
January 13, 2014

Older Adults See Long-Lasting Cognitive Benefits From Brain Training

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

A new study from a team of American researchers has found that older adults can experience decade-long cognitive benefits from as few as ten mental training sessions.

The study, which was published on Monday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, also found that additional ‘booster’ sessions could further increase participants’ gains in reasoning ability and speed for processing information.

"Showing that training gains are maintained for up to 10 years is a stunning result because it suggests that a fairly modest intervention in practicing mental skills can have relatively long-term effects beyond what we might reasonably expect," said study author Dr. George Rebok, a psychiatry and behavioral sciences professor at Johns Hopkins University.

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study included over 2,800 participants with an average age of nearly 74 years at the outset. Volunteers were assigned to one of three cognitive training groups or a control group, which did not receive training. A memory training group was given strategies for remembering word lists, text material, and the key points of narratives. A reasoning group was shown strategies on how to solve pattern-based problems, a skill that translates when reading bus schedules or filling out order forms. The third cognitive group received speed-of-processing coaching that trained participants to recognize and locate visual information quickly, a skill that comes in handy when driving or looking up contact information.

Each cognitive training session was held in small groups for 60 to 75 minutes at a time. Ten sessions were conducted over the course of five to six weeks.

Ten years after the study began, participants in the cognitive training groups reported having less difficulty with daily cognitive activities. Approximately 60 percent of participants in the training groups, compared with 50 percent of the control group, were at or above their ability level of for performing daily tasks such as taking medications, cooking, and balancing their finances. Memory capacity improved up to five years after the intervention, but after ten years – there was no longer a significant benefit. The reasoning and speed-of-processing groups still demonstrated noteworthy improvements compared to their counterparts in the control group at the ten-year mark.

The researchers also discovered that a four-session supplemental training at 11 and at 35 months after the original 10-session course provided additional and long-lasting improvements in the reasoning group and in the speed-of-processing group.

"Our findings provide support for the development of other interventions for senior adults, particularly those that target cognitive abilities showing the most rapid decline with age and that can affect their everyday functioning and independence,” Rebok said. “Such interventions have potential to delay the onset of difficulties in daily functioning.”

He added that even marginal delays in the onset of cognitive decline can add up to a major public health, as well as help mitigate rising health care costs.

The study team called for more research on how relatively short interventions can have lasting effects on everyday functioning. The team added that they were interested in determining if the training sessions help older adults preserve their safe driving skills.