Use your brain or loose it

Chicago: Brain exercises can help elderly people stay mentally fit for longer, says a new study.

It concluded that older people must “use-it-or-lose-it” . For people say aged 73 years all that was needed was ten sessions of hour-long classes and included exercises done on a computer.

Research has already shown that intellectual tasks such as crossword puzzles and reading can help keep the brain sharp as people grow old.

The $15m study which was sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, was published appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month. It was led by Sherry Willis, a human-development professor at Penn State University.

Age-related mental decline is expected to affect 84 million people worldwide by 2040, according to statistics in the report.

Nearly 3,000 men and women in six cities – Baltimore, Birmingham, Ala.; Boston; Detroit; Indianapolis; and State College, Pa. took part in the study.

They were randomly assigned to six-week training sessions in either memory, reasoning or speedy mental processing, and were tested before and after. A comparison group received no training but was also tested.

About 700 of the 1,877 people who completed all five years also got short refresher sessions one year and three years after their initial training.

The memory training included organizing a 15-item grocery list into categories like dairy, vegetables and meat to make it easier to remember and locate items.

The reasoning training taught participants how to see patterns in everyday tasks such as bus schedules and taking medicines at different doses and times.

The speed training had participants quickly identify flashing objects on a computer screen. Those are some of the same reaction skills used while driving.

Nearly 90 percent of the speed training group, 74 percent of the reasoning group and 26 percent of the memory group showed almost immediate improvements in scores on tests of the mental functions they were trained in. The improvements in most cases lasted throughout the five years of the study and were most notable in people who got refresher sessions.

The comparison group participants also showed some improvement – perhaps just from the stimulation of being tested – but it was not as great.

After five years, the participants assessed their ability to perform everyday tasks such as shopping, driving and managing their finances. And the researchers rated the participants in their everyday functioning.

Only the group that received reasoning training reported substantially less decline than the comparison group. And only one group actually performed better, in the researchers’ opinion – those who got refresher sessions in speed training.

See also: JAMA: