Magazine article Science News

Aging Lessons: Training Gives Elderly Practical Assistance

Magazine article Science News

Aging Lessons: Training Gives Elderly Practical Assistance

Article excerpt

Sessions aimed at improving memory, reasoning, or visual concentration in healthy elderly people yield notable cognitive returns, even 5 years later, a long-term study suggests. The training largely protected the participants from age-related declines in the ability to perform everyday tasks such as preparing meals, doing housework, and managing money.

A handful of booster sessions in reasoning or visual concentration, administered about 1 year and 3 years after the initial sessions, offered an even better defense against cognitive losses that interfere with daily activities, says a team led by psychologist Sherry L. Willis of Pennsylvania State University in State College.

"It's surprising to see such durable effects of cognitive interventions on general abilities in the elderly,' says psychologist and study coauthor Michael Marsiske of the University of Florida in Gainesville. "It's intriguing to think about what the effects might be with more training."

The new findings appear in the Dec. 20 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Willis and her colleagues studied 2,802 adults, ages 65 and older, living independently in six U.S. cities. The volunteers were randomly assigned to one of three training groups or to a control group that received no training.

People in the training groups attended 10 twice-weekly, roughly 1-hour sessions. One course taught ways to improve memory for word lists and stories. Another focused on developing reasoning strategies to discern patterns in series of letters and words. A third coached volunteers to identify objects shown in increasingly brief computer displays.

Nearly a year later, 879 individuals completed four booster sessions based on their prior training. Two years after that, 723 people completed four more booster sessions.

Initial findings indicated that any cognitive training, even without booster sessions, yielded improved scores 2 years later on tests of memory, reasoning, or visual concentration (SN: 11/16/02, p. …

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