Researchers’ Analysis Confirms Effects of Cognitive Training for Older Adults

Dr. Chandramallika Basak

As more people live to advanced ages due to health care innovations, more also are dealing with the decline in mental acuity that can come late in life. Cognitive training is often touted as a way of treating — or even preempting — these issues, but there is significant disagreement on the effectiveness of various methods.

Researchers from The University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) conducted a large-scale analysis of the benefits of multiple training types for individuals who are aging healthily, as well as those with mild cognitive impairment.

Dr. Chandramallika Basak

Dr. Chandramallika Basak, associate professor of cognition and neuroscience in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is the corresponding and first author of the study published in February in Psychology and Aging. She said her meta-analysis — which assessed the results of 215 previous studies published in 167 journal articles — will have a large-scale impact on a controversial field.

“Effective cognitive training during late adulthood can help maintain, or even enhance, our cognitive abilities,” said Basak, the director of the Lifespan Neuroscience and Cognition Laboratory at CVL. “Credit this cognitive plasticity to our brain’s ability to recover some core abilities that decline with age with practice, such as processing speed, executive functions and working memory.”

Cognitive training in older adults refers broadly to activities designed to maintain or improve cognitive abilities that typically decline in late adulthood, such as short-term memory, attention, problem-solving and executive functions. Although techniques and tests vary widely, they usually involve a professional who administers a standardized test, supervises a training module designed to improve the skill or skills used on that test, and then retests to see if a subject has improved.

“Training modules are designed for the subject to relearn an ability that may have declined in a way that is both engaging and scientific,” said CVL research associate Shuo (Eva) Qin PhD’19, another author of the study.

Basak said that the results from this meta-analysis supported the benefits of cognitive training, albeit limited to specific training modules: Those who were given any type of training outperformed their related control groups on post-training cognitive tests. The results support the idea that even an aging, slightly impaired brain can still make positive changes.

“Though healthy participants showed more robust cognitive improvements than those with mild cognitive impairments, there was widespread improvement across all groups,” Basak said. “One key finding was that cognitive training was found to significantly improve everyday functioning in older adults, which in turn can provide additional years of independence and potentially delay the onset of dementia.”

Read more on the UT Dallas website