Brain training really does work:
Study claims effects can be seen TEN YEARS after doing exercises
By MARK PRIGG
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,' said George Rebok, an expert on aging and a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who led the study.
'Ten years after the training, there was evidence the effects were durable for the reasoning and the speed training,'
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, 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.'
However, researchers said even a small gain would be likely to ease the burden on caregivers and healthcare providers.
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 programs - focusing on processing speed, memory and reasoning ability - affected cognitively normal adults as they aged.
If we delay the onset of difficulties in daily activities even by a small amount, that can have major public health implications in terms of helping to curb healthcare costs, delaying entry into institutions and hospitals," Rebok said.
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 making other 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.
Whether this training actually strengthened the brain in the way that exercising builds muscle is not clear, but the government intends to study this, too.
HOW MUCH BRAIN TRAINING SHOULD YOU DO?
Researchers have previously proved that brain-training programs can significantly improve memory and language skills - especially in older people.
One recent study from UCLA found that just 20 minutes of brain training once every TOW days can improve your immediate memory recall, and help you remember things for longer.
Previous studies have claimed that brain training programs can delay dementia in later life but little research has been done into the immediate benefits of the software on older people.