Ten short brain exercise sessions helped older adults stay mentally fit for as long as 5 years, according to a study involving over 2,800 men and women (average age, 74) living independently in the community.
Study participants were assigned to receive training in one of three areas: reasoning, memory, or speed of mental processing. Conducted over 6 weeks, the 10 hour-long training sessions included computerized exercises to strengthen memory building, speed of information processing, and reasoning. For example, some participants were asked to identify patterns or flashing objects shown on a computer screen. About 700 of the 1,877 people who were followed for all 5 years of the study also got short refresher sessions 1 year and 3 years later. A control group received no training.
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Testing showed that most participants showed immediate improvements in the mental functions in which they'd been trained, as follows: memory group, 26%; reasoning group, 74%; information processing group, nearly 90%.
In most cases, the improvements lasted throughout the 5-year study period and were strongest in those who received refresher sessions. The researchers say that the training resulted in less functional decline based on participants' reports on their activities of daily living.