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'Brain Training' May Help Aging Brains

Problem-solving ability surpassed memory, study finds

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Seniors who took reasoning or speed-of-processing training continued to show significant improvements over the untrained group 10 years later.

Memory training lasted up to five years following the initial sessions, but, after 10 years, the people who received the training performed no better than the untrained people.

The researchers also found that four-session booster training at 11 and 35 months after the initial training sessions produced additional and durable improvements in the reasoning and speed-of-processing groups.

The results support the idea that people can receive brain training that will keep them sharp as they age, King said.

But he noted that the participants took part in well-designed classes that focused on specific mental abilities. Solving the daily Sudoku might not have the same strong effect, and commercial brain-training programs like Lumosity are largely untested, he said.

"We don't know very much about many of them," King said of a wave of brain games and programs targeted at seniors. "No one has done any clinical trials on them that we know of. They may be good or bad, but we can't say."

The study seems to verify what is a common-sense notion, said Dr. Rachelle Doody, director of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"People who remain cognitively active are advantaged as they age," Doody said. "I could say the same about people who remain socially active and people who remain physically active."

A well-rounded combination of all three -- mental, social and physical activity -- likely would help all seniors stay sharp as they age, she said.

"If you watch TV all day, every day but do a daily crossword puzzle, then you probably have too low a dose of the intervention," Doody said.

Doody said she is a bit skeptical of the study because, due to the advanced age of the participants, fewer and fewer were available to be retested five and 10 years later.

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