MONDAY, Jan. 13, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Elderly people who
participate in "brain training" classes to keep their minds sharp
continue to see positive benefits 10 years after the training,
according to a new study.
Even if they took only an initial set of classes aimed at
improving their ability to solve problems and react quickly,
participants showed that the training stuck with them a decade
later, the researchers reported in the January issue of the
Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
Those who received "booster" sessions during the following 10
years displayed even better mental abilities, compared with people
who received no brain lessons at all.
The lasting mental boost that can be achieved by taking brain
training is a surprise, said study co-author Jonathan King, program
director for cognitive aging at the U.S. National Institute on
Aging, a co-sponsor of the study.
"When the study first started, people had some idea you could get a short-term effect," King said. "I don't think anyone anticipated you could get a five-year or a 10-year effect."
There is a drawback, however. Problem-solving and quick-reaction
training stuck with participants, but memory lessons did not, the
"Memory training no longer has an effect after 10 years, but reasoning and speed-of-processing training still does," King said. "We know that memory training is more difficult to get positive effects during aging."
The study involved more than 2,800 people who were an average of
73 years old at the start of the study. 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
- 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.
These classes took place a decade ago, and researchers found
immediate improvement in everyone who took the training -- but only
in the function they were trained on, King said.
Researchers recently revisited the participants to see if the
training stayed with them, although less than half of the original
group was available.
About 60 percent of the trained participants had either
maintained or improved their initial ability to handle daily tasks
such as using medications, cooking or managing finances. By
comparison, only 50 percent of the untrained group had maintained
or improved their ability to handle daily tasks.
Seniors who took reasoning or speed-of-processing training
continued to show significant improvements over the untrained group
10 years later.
Memory training lasted up to five years following the initial
sessions, but, after 10 years, the people who received the training
performed no better than the untrained people.
The researchers also found that four-session booster training at
11 and 35 months after the initial training sessions produced
additional and durable improvements in the reasoning and
The results support the idea that people can receive brain
training that will keep them sharp as they age, King said.
But he noted that the participants took part in well-designed
classes that focused on specific mental abilities. Solving the
daily Sudoku might not have the same strong effect, and commercial
brain-training programs like Lumosity are largely untested, he
"We don't know very much about many of them," King said of a wave of brain games and programs targeted at seniors. "No one has done any clinical trials on them that we know of. They may be good or bad, but we can't say."
The study seems to verify what is a common-sense notion, said
Dr. Rachelle Doody, director of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory
Disorders Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"People who remain cognitively active are advantaged as they age," Doody said. "I could say the same about people who remain socially active and people who remain physically active."
A well-rounded combination of all three -- mental, social and
physical activity -- likely would help all seniors stay sharp as
they age, she said.
"If you watch TV all day, every day but do a daily crossword puzzle, then you probably have too low a dose of the intervention," Doody said.
Doody said she is a bit skeptical of the study because, due to
the advanced age of the participants, fewer and fewer were
available to be retested five and 10 years later.
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