A brief course of brain exercises helped older adults hold on to improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed for 10 years after the course ended, according to results from the largest study ever done on cognitive training.
The findings, published on Monday in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, offer welcome news in the search for ways to keep the mind sharp as 76 million baby boomers in the United States advance into old age.
The federally sponsored trial of almost 3,000 older adults, called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, or ACTIVE, looked at how three brain training programmes – focusing on processing speed, memory and reasoning ability – affected cognitively normal adults as they aged. People in the study had an average age of 74 when they started the training, which involved 10 to 12 sessions lasting 60 to 75 minutes each. After five years, researchers found, those with the training performed better than their untrained counterparts in all three measures.
Although gains in memory seen at the study’s five-year mark appeared to drop off over the next five years, gains in reasoning ability and processing speed persisted 10 years after the training. “What we found was pretty astounding. Ten years after the training, there was evidence the effects were durable for the reasoning and the speed training,” said George Rebok, an expert on aging and a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who led the study.
Participants in all three training groups also reported that they had an easier time with daily activities such as managing their medications, cooking meals or handling their finances than did participants who did not get the training. But standard tests of these activities showed no differences between the groups.
“The speed-of-processing results are very encouraging,” said study co-author Jonathan King, programme director for cognitive aging in the Division of Behavioural and Social Research at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the research.
King said the self-reported improvements in daily function were interesting, but added, “We do not yet know whether they would truly allow older people to live independently longer.”
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