Elderly Adults With Mild Memory Impairment Benefit From Cognitive Training

June 9, 2009

A research team led by Frederick Unverzagt, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis, found that older adults with pre-existing mild memory impairment benefit from cognitive training that does not rely on memorization as much as those with normal memory function.

A research team led by Frederick Unverzagt, MD, associate professor of psychiatry, Indiana University–Purdue University, Indianapolis, found that older adults with pre-existing mild memory impairment benefit from cognitive training that does not rely on memorization as much as those with normal memory function. The findings of the study, which was funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Institute on Aging, were published in the November issue of the Journal of the International Neurological Society.

The study was conducted as part of the multisite Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) clinical trial, which followed 2802 nondemented, community-dwelling adults aged 65 years and older from 6 cities: Baltimore; Birmingham, Ala; Boston; Detroit; State College, Pa; and Indianapolis. The participants’ average age was 74 years. During the ACTIVE study, the cognitive function of approximately 200 subjects was found to have declined. Unverzagt and colleagues divided these memory-impaired participants into treatment groups to receive cognitive training in 1 of 3 target skills in 10 sessions of 60 to 75 minutes over 5 to 6 weeks.

The memory training focused on methods to learn and remember new information, such as word lists and short narratives; the reasoning training emphasized pattern detection and inductive skills to solve problems; and the speed-of-processing training addressed the speed of responses to visual and manual prompts on a computer screen. Only the memory-training component relied on the participants’ declarative memory ability.

Compared with a control group that received no cognitive training, participants who received memory training and had normal memory ability at the start of the study showed significant improvement in memorization skills. However, among the participants with declines in memory function, those in the memory-training group showed no benefit, while those who received the reasoning or the speed-of-processing training showed improvement in these areas compared with normal-memory participants.