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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

'Brain Training' May Help Aging Brains

Problem-solving ability surpassed memory, study finds
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These classes took place a decade ago, and researchers found immediate improvement in everyone who took the training -- but only in the function they were trained on, King said.

Researchers recently revisited the participants to see if the training stayed with them, although less than half of the original group was available.

About 60 percent of the trained participants had either maintained or improved their initial ability to handle daily tasks such as using medications, cooking or managing finances. By comparison, only 50 percent of the untrained group had maintained or improved their ability to handle daily tasks.

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.

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