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Cognitive Training Sharpens Some Skills in Elders

Summary and Comment |
February 3, 2014

Cognitive Training Sharpens Some Skills in Elders

  1. Brandy R. Matthews, MD

Self-reported daily activities were the most affected at 10-year follow-up.

  1. Brandy R. Matthews, MD

To examine the effects of cognitive training in elders, researchers randomized more than 2800 community-dwelling older adults (mean baseline age, 73.6 years) to one of four training groups: memory, reasoning, speed-of-processing, or a no-contact control group. Training occurred over roughly 12 hours spanning 6 weeks. A subset of participants received booster training at the end of years 1 and 3.

At 10 years, the 44% of participants who remained in the study underwent testing in all three domains (average age at testing, 82 years). Those who had undergone memory training did no better on memory tests than the other groups. The reasoning and speed-of-processing groups maintained the initial improvement in their areas of training and also benefitted from booster training, but the effect sizes were modest. All trained groups self-reported significantly better performance than controls on measures of instrumental activities of daily living such as meal preparation, shopping, finances, and hygiene, but there was no effect on objective, performance-based measures of daily activities.

— Adapted from a Physician's First Watch article published on January 14, 2014

Comment

The maintenance of a measurable effect of cognitive training on cognition in an aging population is encouraging, and the intention-to-treat-analysis helps address the confound of loss to follow-up. Unfortunately, the ecological validity of the intervention is challenged by the lack of transfer of skills to objective measures of daily activity performance. In addition, the lack of contact with the control group may have increased the bias toward greater self-reported performance in the intervention group.

Dr. Matthews works closely with Dr. Unverzagt in the Indiana Alzheimer Disease Center but did not participate in the design, conduct, or analysis of this study.

  • Disclosures for Brandy R. Matthews, MD at time of publication Grant / research support National Institute on Aging

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