Mental training can help older minds

By • Published: March 23rd, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Just as physical exercise is good for the body, mental training can keep older minds functioning better, with results lasting for years.

Researchers who conducted the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly study, also known as ACTIVE, say older adults who received just ten sessions of mental training showed long-lasting improvements in memory, reasoning and speed of processing five years after the intervention. The study involved twenty-eight-hundred seniors ages sixty-five to ninety-six who were separated into groups to receive training in memory, reasoning or speed of processing. A fourth group received no training.

The mental exercises were designed to improve older adults’ thinking and reasoning skills and determine whether the improvements could also affect seniors’ capacity to follow medication instructions or react to traffic signals quickly.

The researchers discovered that not only were the improvements detectable five years later, but there was also some evidence of the training’s “transfer” to everyday functions. Compared with those who did not receive mental training, participants in the training groups reported less difficulty performing tasks such as cooking and managing finances, although the effect of training on daily tasks only reached statistical significance for the reasoning-trained group.

The researchers say the best way to reap benefits from mental exercises is to continue to challenge yourself. For example, if crossword puzzles are easy for you, take up another activity, such as chess. And it’s never too early to start training. Mental skills gained earlier in life can last well into later years.