The beneficial effects of brain training on an older adult’s mental abilities can last for at least 10 years, according to the results of a study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
It’s long been known that keeping our minds active as we age can be beneficial, but these latest results are especially encouraging because they demonstrate how enduring the brain-boosting effects can be: “These longer term results indicate that particular types of cognitive training can provide lasting benefits a decade later,” Richard Hodes, M.D., director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) said in a press release.
Thousands of elders with an average age of 74 enrolled in a program called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly—known by the apropos moniker, ACTIVE—about ten years ago. Participants were sorted into one of four groups: a speed-of-processing group, a memory group, a reasoning group and a control group that did not undergo any special training.
Each cohort engaged in a different type of cognitive task for ten hour-long sessions. Individuals in the processing speed groups were given a computer game based on identifying and interpreting visual cues to hone their skills, the memory group was presented with lists of words and numbers to remember, and the reasoning group was tasked with completing fill-in-the-blank problems and pattern recognition exercises.
A decade later, the seniors in the study saw a decrease in their ability to carry out daily functions such as shopping, chores and medication management, regardless of whether or not they were members of the groups that underwent special training. However, participants who were part of the reasoning and processing speed cohorts reported experiencing a much less-pronounced decline in their abilities than those who were in the memory group, or those who received no training at all.
These conclusions lend further weight to the argument that an active brain remains nimble, though study authors do caution that their results can’t definitively determine whether brain training may help an aging adult remain living on their own for longer.
Still, they express confidence in the promising nature of their findings. As co-author Jonathan King, Ph.D., program director for cognitive aging in the Division of Behavioral and Social research for the NIA puts it, “Even a small effect would be important, not only for the older adults, but also for family members and others providing care.”
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor