Staying Sharp with Mental Training

Elderly people avoided cognitive decline with problem solving and processing training

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Aging can lead to a decline in memory, problem solving and response time. According to a recent study, brief mental training could keep your mind sharp for years.

In this study, elderly adults participated in 10 mental training sessions that involved either memory, problem solving or speedy processing skills.

Ten years after the study, most of the participants in the problem solving and speed groups had the same or better cognitive functioning ability.

The participants in the mental training sessions also reported less difficulty when performing basic activities like cooking.

"Exercise your mind as you age."

George Rebok, PhD, of the Department of Mental Health and Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins University, led this study.

Many older people experience a decline in mental functioning and ability to perform tasks of daily living.

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, or ACTIVE, recruited 2,832 adults who were 65 years old or older to participate in the trial.

Each of the participants lived independently.

The participants were assigned to one of three intervention groups or a control group (no intervention).

The first intervention group focused on verbal memory training. The second focused on reasoning and problem solving using patterns. The third group focused on speed-of-processing using visual search activities.

The training sessions occurred in small groups. Participants met for 60 to 75 minute sessions 10 times over five or six weeks.

Some participants completed "booster training," an additional four 75-minute sessions that took place 11 and 35 months after training.

The researchers measured the outcomes of the training using learning, memory, processing and reasoning tests during a follow-up 10 years after the study began.

The participants also reported how well they could perform activities of daily life like meal preparation, finances, personal hygiene and health care.

The researchers found that each of the intervention groups experienced immediate improvement in cognitive ability.

For the reasoning and speed-of-processing groups, the improvement was retained over the next 10 years.

A total of 73. 6 percent of the participants in the reasoning group and 70.7 percent of the speed training participants were performing at the same or higher level of cognitive ability after 10 years.

Only 48.8 percent of the control participants were performing at the same level of cognitive ability.

The participants involved in the booster training also experienced a significant boost in their cognitive ability, especially those who completed speed training.

The intervention groups also reported less difficulty performing everyday tasks than the participants in the control group.

The researchers concluded that speed and reasoning training led to significant improvements in cognitive ability that lasted for years after the training ended.

The authors of this study suggested that interventions targeted at certain types of cognitive performance could delay cognitive decline in elderly populations.

This study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society on January 13.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute of Nursing Research. The researchers disclosed some financial ties to certain health foundations and research groups.

Review Date: 
January 10, 2014
Last Updated:
January 14, 2014