Cognitive-Training Can Result in Long-Term Improvement

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There is a long-standing notion that playing brain games, such as puzzles and other mental undertakings, can help stave off the negative effects of aging. But is the old "use it or lose it" adage really true? Do these cognitive games really have any sort of impact on mental functioning in the elderly?

Research suggests that such efforts can be beneficial for helping people maintain and even improve some aspects of cognition. Considering the large population of aging people, such improvement could have a significant impact on the mental health and functioning of older adults.

What Is Cognitive Training?

Also known as brain training, cognitive training is a non-pharmacological approach that involves following a series of regular mental activities that are designed to help maintain or even increase a person's cognitive abilities. Some of the cognitive abilities that are often targeted by cognitive training include:

  • Attention
  • Working memory
  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Problem-solving
  • Reasoning

Benefits

There are a number of reasons why people might want to try cognitive training. These include:

  • Slowing cognitive declines during old age
  • Helping older adults remain more independent
  • Sharpen mental skills that are prone to age-related declines

Mental abilities that tend to decrease with age include processing speed, reaction time decision making, short-term memory, and planning skills. Research suggests that brain training may be helpful for sharpening these abilities.

Effectiveness

According to the results of a large-scale study, mental training may help improve the cognitive function of older adults. In older adults, cognitive training led to improvements in areas related to daily function. Such effects were also long-lasting, with participants showing improvement up to 10 years later.

The potential for such lasting benefits could help older adults maintain their mental abilities and independence as they age.

The researchers found that the participants who had received the training experienced improvement in daily activities that involved cognitive abilities in which they had received training.

Memory improvements translated to real-life activities such as recalling when to take their medications and which items they needed to get at the grocery store while speed-response training related to things such as reaction-time when driving.

Research also suggests that brain training games can help improve executive functions such as working memory and processing speed in younger adults as well.

While research supports the potential benefits of cognitive training, whether these benefits translate to many of the "brain games" that have emerged in recent years remains a matter of debate.

Mental Exercises

Cognitive training exercises often involve activities such as pattern detection, using a touch screen program to increase speed, and memorizing lists. If you are interested in trying some cognitive training exercises on your own, you might want to:

  • Do math in your head
  • Draw a map from memory
  • Learn a new language
  • Learn how to play an instrument
  • Memorize lists and test you recall
  • Play Sudoku
  • Play online or app-based brain games
  • Put together a jigsaw puzzle

In addition to such cognitive training, there are other things that you can do to help take care of your brain. Activities that can improve your brain health include getting regular exercise, being socially active, and meditating.

A Word From Verywell

Cognitive training may have a number of benefits, but it is also important to know its limits. It may sharpen your skills and help you retain more information, but you shouldn't expect miraculous improvements. If nothing else, these brain games are often a fun, challenging way to put your cognitive skills to the test.

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  2. Tennstedt SL, Unverzagt FW. The ACTIVE Study: Study Overview and Major Findings. J Aging Health. 2013;25(8 Suppl):3S-20S. doi:10.1177/0898264313518133

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