Brief periods of cognitive training in areas such as memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing may significantly improve cognitive ability and daily functioning for seniors, according to a new study. The Washington Post reports that the large-scale trial, which is the nation’s largest on the effects of cognitive training, could lead to a 38% reduction in the number of people suffering from functional impairment by 2050.
The study followed 2,832 people aged 65 and older for 10 years after they were given 10 hours of training in one of three areas: memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing. These areas are among the first to suffer during age-related cognitive decline and are believed to be important in activities of daily living. The participants were on average 74 years old when the study began and were living independently at home.
Training sessions were conducted in small groups and lasted 60 to 75 minutes. They occurred 10 times over the course of five to six weeks and four booster sessions were given 11 and 35 months after the original training. Activities included memorizing lists, detecting patterns in series of numbers and practicing speed with a touch-screen program.
People who received the training reported they were better able to perform instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), which include shopping, preparing food, using a telephone, housekeeping and ability to navigate transportation. Sixty percent of trained participants were at or above the same level of IADL function after 10 years, compared to 50% of people who received no training.
The effects of reasoning and speed-of-processing lasted the full 10 years, though the effects of memory training did not last. Participants only saw benefits in the category where they had been trained. These benefits could translate to seniors being able to drive, accurately fill out forms, negotiate medications and multitask for longer.
If programs could be developed to provide cognitive training to the general population, researchers were optimistic that seniors’ rates of functional impairment could drop significantly over the next several decades.