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Brain Training Keeps Seniors Mentally Sharp

Update Date: Jan 13, 2014 09:31 AM EST

For seniors who want to boost their cognitive functions, brain training might be an easy route to follow. According to a new study, a research team reported that older people who underwent mental training sessions benefitted. The seniors experienced improved cognitive skills in comparison to other older adults who did not receive brain training.

For this research, the team examined data from a 10-year follow-up study on 2,832 seniors who had an average age of 73.6. During the study, the participants were divided into four groups, three were intervention groups and one was the control group. The first intervention group was taught different methods in remembering words and sequences. The second group involved using reasoning skills in which the participants were taught how to follow patterns and solve problems. The last intervention group was trained via the computer and was taught speed-processing skills such as identifying visual information. The training sessions lasted 60 to 75 minutes for five to six weeks. The classes were limited to 10 people per session.

During the follow-up a decade later, the researchers measured the participants' cognitive abilities by using the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study. They discovered that participants that belonged to any one of the three intervention groups had experienced improved daily living. They were better able to carry out daily tasks, such as cooking, taking their medications and financing in comparison to the seniors in the control group. The researchers found that memory improved for five years but after 10 years, there were no differences in memory abilities between all four groups. However, the team found that participants from the reasoning and the computer training groups had overall improvements.

"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 lead author Dr. George Rebok of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD reported in the press release. "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. Such interventions have potential to delay the onset of difficulties in daily functioning."

The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

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