Saturday, January 18, 2014

Train Your Brain, with Lasting Results

Brain training helped older adults stay sharp for years -study
CHICAGO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - 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.

Older adults who underwent a brief course of brain exercises
saw improvements in reasoning skills and processing speed that
could be detected as long as 10 years after the course ended,
according to results from the largest study ever on cognitive


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

"The speed-of-processing results are very encouraging," said
study co-author Jonathan King, program director for cognitive
aging in the Division of Behavioral 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."


The training course was designed to bolster specific
cognitive abilities that begin to slip as people age. It does
not aim to prevent dementia caused by underlying disease such as Alzheimer's.

At the start of the study, all 2,832 participants were
cognitively normal. The study included four groups: three
training groups plus a control group of volunteers who came in
for regular testing to see how they were faring with age.

People were trained in small groups over a period of several
weeks and then were tested immediately after the training and
again one, two, three, five and 10 years later.

About 60 percent of the volunteers who underwent training
also got booster training sessions, which enhanced the initial benefits.

At the end of the trial, all groups showed declines compared
with their initial baseline tests in memory, reasoning and
processing speed, but those who got training in reasoning and
processing speed experienced less decline.


The programs, developed by the researchers, were focused
largely on teaching strategies to improve cognitive performance.
For example, the memory training taught people how to remember
word lists, sequences and main ideas, while the reasoning
training focused on things like recognizing number patterns.

In the processing speed training, people were asked to focus
on the main object in a computer screen while also trying to
quickly recognize and identify objects on the periphery of the
screen. Such training can help older drivers with things like
recognizing road signs while driving.

A version of the speed training program developed for this
trial is now commercially available through the brain fitness
company Posit Science, but the researchers are working on makingother types of training available as well.

Rebok's team just got a grant from the National Institute on
Aging to make a computerized version of the memory test, with
the hope that repeated training can improve the results.

The study was not designed to explain why cognitive training
can have such a lasting effect. Rebok said it may be that people
take the strategies they learn and practice them over time. As
they age, trained individuals can rely on these strategies to
compensate for their declines. [...]
I find it interesting that 10 to 12 hours of training could have such long lasting effects. They must have learned techniques that they incorporated into their daily lives, that made a difference in the long run. An education about how to use their brains, or more effectively use their thinking and reasoning faculties. Why not teach these things in schools to people who are young? Such habits might benefit them throughout their entire lives.


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