I went jogging with my mom the other day, and despite her looming three-quarter-century birthday coming up (75 for those non math-minded folks) she kept me on my toes. She has been a lifelong runner and physical fitness is important to her. But what about her brain health? Unfortunately, most of the aging population is unaware that cognitive fitness requires brain training just as physical fitness requires aerobic and strength training.
Fact One: There are currently over five million people in the United States suffering from age-related dementia, and those numbers are increasing exponentially. Correspondingly, research in this field has also increased exponentially in the past several decades. However, outcomes for drug interventions have not been promising and research into other interventions have lacked positive outcomes that transfer beyond the specific trained task.
Fact Two: For those who struggle with age-related dementia and their family members, the greatest desire is for improvements in activities of daily living. While it may reflect cognitive facility, increased ‘brain-game’ scores and levels do not transfer into practical life skills. Yet for the aging population it is challenging to schedule and attend the variety of stimulating activities needed for ongoing cognitive growth.
Fact Three: New research published by the American Psychological Association (APA) reveals hope for an innovative approach to helping the aging population sharpen and maintain brain fitness. Scientists from Colorado Springs evaluated almost 300 men and women over the age of 50 who participated across the United States in a one-on-one cognitive training program called ThinkRx. Test scores confirmed improvements in specific brain functioning such as memory, visual and auditory processing, logic and reasoning, attention, and processing speed. Even more exciting, participants also reported improvements in confidence, mood, independence, and life application skills!
Sounds too good to be true? Well the downside could be the time commitment and cost of training sessions three times per week…so researchers investigated outcomes for participants who chose a less expensive and more convenient training program. Referred to as the “50-50” or “Partner” program, the cognitive training can be completed 50% by a certified trainer in clinic, and 50% by a family member or friend. Cognitive improvements and life transfer outcomes were nearly identical for participants who had the program delivered by certified trainers exclusively or by a trainer and family member or friend.
Fact Four: In another recent article from the American Psychological Association’s journal of Psychology and Neuroscience, researchers evaluated the immediate benefits of brain training for seniors as well as those that transferred to quality of life cognitive processes. The outcome of the meta-analysis revealed that these benefits improved not only the trained tasks, but also untrained cognitive tasks, and were maintained long after the brain training concluded.
Armed with the knowledge of this exciting new research, I purchased a brain-training program for my Mom. Now she works out her brain as faithfully as her body, and we are both confident she will be enjoying overall fitness for years to come. As I head into my fifties I know the time is now to keep my neurons firing and wiring. Just like Mom, I want to strive for mental and physical fitness so that I’m doing all I can to be sharp for my kids and grandkids as I age.
This is definitely good news for everyone, as we all head toward those golden years. Nice to know there are affordable and long-lasting options for keeping our noggins in top-notch fitness!
Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy
Check out the original research: