Brain Exercises May Improve Cognition in Older Adults

By on January 13th, 2014
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Adults 65 and older who did brain exercises for a study on elderly brain function did 19 percent better on reasoning tests and 45 percent better on speed tests than those who did not participate in the exercises.

Mental exercise can provide long-lasting benefits to the minds of older adults, according to one University of Florida researcher.

Dr. Michael Marsiske, an associate professor of clinical and health psychology, said new research shows as few as 10 sessions of mental training can provide 10 years of improved cognitive ability for adults 65 or older. The study was published online Monday by the Journal of American Geriatrics Society.

Results showed participants who received training reported fewer limitations in their daily lives after 10 years than those who did not receive training, Marsiske said. Daily tasks assessed included meal preparation, finances, shopping and need for assistance with bathing and dressing.

Overcoming new and difficult tasks leads to increases in learning and cognitive abilities, Marsiske said. For example, results show new learning is possible for older adults.

“If there’s something they want to try, a challenge that they’d like to master, our evidence suggests that there’s still a lot of plasticity there,” he said. “They can take on these new challenges and get better at them.”

The mental training of participants also improved their reasoning and the speed of processing up to 10 years later but did not affect memory.

Marsiske said people ask him all the time how to improve their aging minds. Traditional mental activities like crossword puzzles work, but someone who is good at them should incorporate more of a challenge.

Playing grandchildren’s video games can be a very helpful mental exercise. The goal, Marsiske said, is to find new and difficult mental activities.

The cognitive research has encouraged private sector companies to develop computer-based programs people can use to improve mental function.

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