Training to improve cognitive abilities in older people lasted to some degree 10 years after the training program was completed, according to results of a randomized clinical trial supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Older people who did cognitive excercises or “brain training” showed improvements in the ability to think and learn, but memory training did not have an effect after 10 years, according to new research.
The report, from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study, appears in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The project was funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), components of the NIH.
John N. Morris, Ph.D., and Richard N. Jones, Sc.D., of Hebrew Senior Life and the Institute for Aging Research in Boston and Sharon L. Tennstedt, Ph.D. of the New England Research Institutes, in Watertown, participated in the study.
“Previous data from this clinical trial demonstrated that the effects of the training lasted for five years,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “Now, these longer term results indicate that particular types of cognitive training can provide a lasting benefit a decade later.”
The results suggest cognitive training should be pursued as an intervention that might help maintain the mental abilities of older people so that they may remain independent and in the community, Hodes said.
“ACTIVE is an important example of intervention research aimed at enabling older people to maintain their cognitive abilities as they age,” said NINR Director Patricia Grady, Ph.D. “The average age of the individuals who have been followed over the last 10 years is now 82. Given our nation’s aging population, this type of research is an increasingly high priority.”
The original 2,832 volunteers for the ACTIVE study were divided into three training groups—memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing—and a control group. The training groups participated in 10 60- to 70-minute sessions over five to six weeks, with some randomly selected for later booster sessions. The study measured effects for each specific cognitive ability trained immediately following the sessions and at one, two, three, five and 10 years after the training.
The investigators were also interested in whether the training had an effect on the participants’ abilities to undertake some everyday and complex tasks of daily living. They assessed these using standardized measures of time and efficiency in performing daily activities, as well as asking the participants to report on their ability to carry out everyday tasks ranging from preparing meals, housework, finances, health care, using the telephone, shopping, travel and needing assistance in dressing, personal hygiene and bathing.
At the end of the trial, all groups showed declines from their baseline tests in memory, reasoning and speed of processing. However, the participants who had training in reasoning and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the memory and control groups.