Specialized Training Can Boost Brain Power In Older Adults With Mild Cognitive Impairment

MONTREAL — As we age, many of us experience more lapses in cognition, or the ability to think and make decisions. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-familiar symptom of getting older. Many older adults suffer from Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), but a study conducted early this year unveiled a possible solution: specialized training for older adults.

MCI, a common ailment that occurs with aging, causes people to have noticeable trouble with executive functions like memory, reading comprehension, and judgment, but is not nearly as serious as dementia, in which patients often struggle with simple everyday tasks. Still, MCI is considered an “intermediate stage” between normal cognitive decline and dementia, and may very well eventually lead to the more debilitating condition.

Cognitive training is designed to engage your brain, or to, in effect, exercise it so that it grows stronger, like any other muscle in the body.

Scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City, Canada recruited 145 participants all near the age of 72, and all diagnosed with MCI, to see if cognitive training, which requires no medication, can be an effective treatment for MCI.

The participants were separated into three groups: a cognitive training group, which received special training designed to improve their memory and attention span; a psycho-social group, in which participants were encouraged to improve their general well-being by focusing on the positive things in their lives and increasing positive situations; and the control group, which didn’t interact with researchers and followed no treatment plan.

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Participants in the cognitive training group improved their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period,” notes senior author Dr. Sylvie Belleville, from the University Institute of Geriatrics of Montreal, in a release.

Participants found the training particularly helpful for remembering things such as others’ names after an introduction, as well as shopping lists.

The results  also showed that individuals suffering from “delayed recall,” or the inability to remember something recent, were particularly responsive to the cognitive training they received. Delayed recall is one of the main early indicators of Alzheimer’s disease.

The other two groups saw no improvement in memory.

The study was published Jan. 4, 2018 in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.