Brain Training Can Have Lasting Benefits

Dec 19, 2006

Just as physical exercise is good for the body, mental training can keep older minds functioning better, with results lasting for years.

Older adults who received just 10 sessions of mental training showed long-lasting improvements in memory, reasoning and speed of processing five years after the intervention, say researchers who conducted the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, or ACTIVE. The findings appear in the Dec. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The mental exercises were designed to improve older adults’ thinking and reasoning skills and determine whether the improvements could also affect seniors’ capacity to follow medication instructions correctly or react to traffic signals quickly.

“Our findings clearly suggest that people who engage in an active program of mental training in late life can experience long-lasting gains from that training,” said study researcher Michael Marsiske, an associate professor of clinical and health psychology at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions. “The positive results of ACTIVE thus far strongly suggest that many adults can learn and improve well into their later years.”

The researchers also discovered some evidence of the training’s “transfer” to everyday functions. Compared with those who did not receive mental training, participants in the three training groups — memory, speed of processing and reasoning — reported less difficulty performing tasks such as cooking, using medication and managing finances, although the effect of training on performance of such daily tasks only reached statistical significance for the reasoning-trained group.

“We had about 25 years of knowledge prior to the ACTIVE study suggesting that older adults’ thinking and memory skills could be trained, but we didn’t know whether these mental gains affected real-life skills,” said Marsiske, also a member of UF’s Institute on Aging. “In this study we see some evidence that training in basic mental function can also improve seniors’ ability to perform everyday tasks.”

The ACTIVE study is the first large-scale, randomized controlled study of cognitive training in healthy older adults. Funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research, the study involved 2,802 seniors aged 65 to 96 who were divided into groups to receive training in memory, reasoning or speed of processing in 10 90-minute sessions over a five- to six-week period. A fourth group received no training.

Those in the memory training group were taught strategies for remembering word lists and sequences of items, text material and the main ideas and details of stories. Participants in the reasoning group received instruction on how to solve problems that follow patterns, an ability that is useful in such tasks as reading a bus schedule or completing an order form. Speed of processing training was a computer-based program that focused on the ability to identify and locate visual information quickly, skills that are used when looking up phone numbers or reacting to traffic signs.

When tested immediately after the training period, 87 percent of participants in speed training, 74 percent of participants in reasoning training and 26 percent of participants in memory training showed reliable improvement in their respective mental abilities. In earlier reports, researchers found the improvements had been maintained two years after training, particularly for seniors who were randomized to receive “booster” training one and three years after the original training.

The improvements in memory, problem solving and concentration after training roughly counteracted the degree of cognitive decline that older people without dementia may experience over a seven- to 14-year period, said the paper’s lead author, Sherry L. Willis, of Pennsylvania State University.

But researchers have now discovered that cognitive improvements in the participants were still detectable five years after training.

“The durability of training effects that we saw in ACTIVE exceeds what has been reported in most of the published literature,” Marsiske said. “Five years after training, seniors are still outperforming untrained participants in the mental abilities on which they received instruction.”

Researchers are now discussing with the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research how best to follow up these findings.

“By actually manipulating the type of experience with cognitive activities that seniors have in an experiment, the ACTIVE trial has been incredibly important in providing evidence that there is a causal relationship between ‘using it’ and not ‘losing it,’” said Elizabeth A.L. Stine-Morrow, a professor of educational psychology at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Showing that training gains are maintained over five years is a stunning result because it suggests that a fairly modest intervention in practicing cognitive skills can have relatively long-term effects.”

Source: UF

Explore further: Teenage TV audiences and energy drink advertisements

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Stepping stones to NASA's human missions beyond

Jan 21, 2015

"That's one small step for (a) man; one giant leap for mankind." When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, many strides came before to achieve that moment in history. The same is true for a human ...

Why dogs are the new darlings of cognitive science

May 23, 2014

This will be his earliest memory. Red light, morning light. High ceiling canted overhead. Lazy click of toenails on wood. Between the honey-colored slats of the crib a whiskery muzzle slides forward until it ...

The long shadow of World War II

Jan 22, 2014

World War II ravaged much of Europe, and its long-term effects are still being felt. A new survey shows that elderly people who experienced the war as children are more likely to suffer from diabetes, depression ...

Recommended for you

Extended pre-cessation bupropion helps smokers quit

58 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—Extended pre-quit bupropion is associated with reduced smoking behavior during the pre-quit period and improved short-term abstinence rates, according to a study published online Jan. 14 in ...

Medical device surveillance on the horizon

2 hours ago

Thousands of people around the world have been exposed to toxic chemicals generated by their metal hip implants. Similarly, many patients have contracted infections from pieces of implanted mesh used in hernia-repair surgery, ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.