Cognitive Training for Some Older Adults May Improve Memory

A new Canadian study finds that older adults with mild cognitive impairment were able to significantly improve memory with a specific cognitive training program.

The research appears in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) affects people who are in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI may have mild memory loss or other difficulties completing tasks that involve cognitive abilities.

MCI may eventually develop into dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Depression and anxiety also can accompany MCI, and these conditions can increase the risk of mental decline as people age.

In the study, scientists from research centers in Montreal and Quebec City investigated whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI.

Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

In the study, researchers recruited 145 older adults around the age of 72 from Canadian memory clinics. The participants had been diagnosed with MCI, and were assigned to one of three groups. Each group included four or five participants, and met for eight weekly sessions for 120 minutes.

The three groups were:

  • Cognitive training group. Members of this group participated in the MEMO program (MEMO stands for a French phrase that translates to “training method for optimal memory”). They received special training to improve their memory and attention span.
  • Psychosocial group. Participants in this group were encouraged to improve their general well-being. They learned to focus on the positive aspects of their lives and find ways to increase positive situations.
  • Control group. Participants had no contact with researchers and didn’t follow a program.

During the time the training sessions took place, 128 of the participants completed the project. After six months, 104 completed all the sessions they were assigned.

People in the MEMO group increased their memory scores by 35 to 40 percent, said Sylvie Belleville, Ph.D., a senior author of the study. “Most importantly, they maintained their scores over a six-month period.”

What’s more, the improvement was the largest for older adults with “delayed recall.” This means memory for words measured just 10 minutes after people have studied them. Because delayed memory is one of the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s disease, this was a key finding.

Importantly, the instruction instilled a new skill to solidify memory.

Specifically, those who participated in the MEMO group said they used the training they learned in their daily lives. The training gave them different ways to remember things.

For example, they learned to use visual images to remember names of new people, and to use associations to remember shopping lists. These lessons allowed them to continue maintaining their memory improvements after the study ended. The people in the psychosocial group and the control group didn’t experience memory benefits or improvement in their mood.

Source: American Geriatrics Society