Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Cognitive Training for Senior
Citizens Shows 10-Year Benefit in Reasoning, Speed
Clinical trial funded by National
Institute on Aging aimed at enabling seniors to maintain cognitive
abilities as they age
16, 2014 - Training to improve cognitive abilities in senior citizens –
average age of 74 - lasted to some degree 10 years after the training
program was completed, according to results of a randomized clinical
trial supported by the National Institutes of Health. The findings
showed training gains for aspects of cognition involved in the ability
to think and learn, but researchers said memory training did not have an
effect after 10 years.
The report, from the Advanced
Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study,
appears in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the
American Geriatrics Society. The project was funded
by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the National Institute of
Nursing Research (NINR), components of the NIH.
“Previous data from this clinical
trial demonstrated that the effects of the training lasted for five
years,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D.
“Now, these longer term results
indicate that particular types of cognitive training can provide a
lasting benefit a decade later. They suggest that we should continue to
pursue cognitive training as an intervention that might help maintain
the mental abilities of older people so that they may remain independent
and in the community.”
“ACTIVE is an important example of
intervention research aimed at enabling older people to maintain their
cognitive abilities as they age,” said NINR Director Patricia Grady,
Ph.D. “The average age of the individuals who have been followed over
the last 10 years is now 82. Given our nation’s aging population, this
type of research is an increasingly high priority.”
The original 2,832 volunteers for
the ACTIVE study were divided into three training groups - memory,
reasoning and speed-of-processing - and a control group. The training
groups participated in 10 60- to 70-minute sessions over five to six
weeks, with some randomly selected for later booster sessions. The study
measured effects for each specific cognitive ability trained immediately
following the sessions and at one, two, three, five and 10 years after
The investigators were also
interested in whether the training had an effect on the participants’
abilities to undertake some everyday and complex tasks of daily living.
They assessed these using
standardized measures of time and efficiency in performing daily
activities, as well as asking the participants to report on their
ability to carry out everyday tasks ranging from preparing meals,
housework, finances, health care, using the telephone, shopping, travel
and needing assistance in dressing, personal hygiene and bathing.
At the end of the trial, all groups
showed declines from their baseline tests in memory, reasoning and speed
of processing. However, the participants who had training in reasoning
and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the
memory and control groups.
Results of the cognitive tests
after 10 years show that 73.6 percent of reasoning-trained participants
were still performing reasoning tasks above their pre-trial baseline
level compared to 61.7 percent of control participants, who received no
training and were only benefiting from practice on the test.
This same pattern was seen in speed
training: 70.7 percent of speed-trained participants were performing at
or above their baseline level compared to 48.8 percent of controls.
There was no difference in memory performance between the memory group
and the control group after 10 years.
Participants in all training groups
said they had less difficulty performing the everyday tasks compared
with those in the control group. However, standard tests of function
conducted by the researchers showed no difference in functional
abilities among the groups.
“The speed-of-processing results
are very encouraging,” said Jonathan W. King, Ph.D., program director
for cognitive aging in the Division of Behavioral and Social Research at
NIA and co-author.
“The self-reported improvements in
daily function are interesting, but we do not yet know whether they
would truly allow older people to live independently longer; if they
did, even a small effect would be important, not only for the older
adults, but also for family members and others providing care.”
The ACTIVE study followed healthy,
community-dwelling older adults from six cities — Baltimore; Birmingham,
Ala.; Boston; Detroit; State College, Pa.; and Indianapolis. The
participants averaged 74 years of age at the beginning of the study and
14 years of education, 76 percent were female, 74 percent were white and
26 percent were African-American. The 10-year follow-up was conducted
with 44 percent of the original sample between April 1998 and October
The ACTIVE study was conducted by
the following investigators:
George W. Rebok, Ph.D., Johns
Hopkins University, Baltimore; Karlene Ball, Ph.D., University of
Alabama at Birmingham; Michael Marsiske, Ph.D., University of Florida,
Gainesville; John N. Morris, Ph.D., and Richard N. Jones, Sc.D., Hebrew
Senior Life, Boston; Sharon L. Tennstedt, Ph.D., New England Research
Institutes, Watertown, Mass; Frederick W. Unverzagt, Ph.D., Indiana
University School of Medicine, Indianapolis;and Sherry L. Willis, Ph.D.,
University of Washington, Seattle
The National Institute of Nursing
Research (NINR) supports basic and clinical research that develops the
knowledge to build the scientific foundation for clinical practice,
prevent disease and disability, manage and eliminate symptoms caused by
illness, and enhance end-of-life and palliative care. For more
information about NINR, visit the website at
The NIA leads the federal
government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the
health and well-being of older people. The Institute’s broad scientific
program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the
healthy, active years of life. For more information on research, aging,
and health, go to
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is
the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers
and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic,
clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the
causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For
more information about NIH and its programs, visit
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