A new study suggests that older adults who carry out brain exercises gain significant benefits that are noticeable even after 10 years. The study suggests that such practices could help prevent many problems associated with aging.
The study included 2,800 participants, being the largest and longest study of its kind.
In the past few years, as baby boomers began to look for solutions to keep their minds healthier, the number of brain games increased. However, the number of studies showing whether these games are beneficial in the long run is very small.
Most of the games available involve exercising with the help of a computer but in the new study scientists used tests that were done with paper and pencil. The exercises trained the subjects' ability to solve problems using number and letter patterns and computer exercises that tested the ability of participants to distinguish quickly an object on a screen that is shown only for a second and then goes to a different image.
Only one of the computer exercise used by the specialists is now available on the market, but it has also been modified a bit.
The experiment found that about three quarters of the participants who took part in the rationalization exercises and rapid data processing exercises experienced the benefits even 10 years after the event.
Scientists not involved in the study named it unique and provocative, adding that it unambiguously indicates that older adults who train their brains can have long-term benefits from such activities.
Study co-researcher Sharon Tennstedt of the New England Research Institutes says the results from brain exercises have helped participants perform daily activities like when they were 10 years younger. In other words, these exercises allow an individual who is 80 years old to feel like 70.
"If this training can have such an effect on our ability to maintain our cognitive functions, then it may have the potential to delay or mitigate dementia," Tennstedt said.
During the research, volunteers, aged 74 years, were divided into four groups. Three of them have received either rational thinking exercises, or have played games on their computer to improve their ability to manage information quickly, or have learned strategies for better memory. The fourth group, however, has received no training in this respects.
For 6 weeks, participants in the first groups took part in 10 preparatory sessions, each with a duration of 60-70 minutes. After each session, researchers measured the immediate effects of exercises, and then continued testing at different time intervals over 10 years.
After a decade, about 74% of individuals who received rational thinking exercises continued to get high test scores, compared with 62% of those in the control group.
Similarly, 71% of participants who performed rapid information management exercises continued to get better results than before participating in the study, compared with only 48% of subjects in the control group.
In contrast, there was no difference between controls and individuals in the third group, where only specific memory training was performed. Scientists do not know for sure why memory training did not seem to help individuals 10 years after the experiment.