As people age, cognitive ability declines, but it may be possible to slow age-related cognitive decline by using cognitive training.
Researchers at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas believe it is possible to keep the brain cognitively youthful for longer. Their study also shows older brains can be trained to behave more like younger brains.
The aim of the study was to examine whether it is possible to use cognitive training to reverse or slow age-related cognitive decline and to determine the effect of cognitive training on brain efficiency.
A randomized clinical trial was performed on 57 adults aged 56-71. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups. One group was given cognitive training over a period of 12 weeks, a control group was required to undergo physical activity in excess of the recommended level of 150 minutes a week, with the remainder were placed in a wait-listed control group. An aerobic exercise control group was used because aerobic exercise has been shown to improve processing speed and results in functional changes to the brain.
Cognitive training was provided using a method called Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training (SMART) developed at the Center for Brain Health. The training method involves focusing the brain on relevant information and filtering out non-relevant information, training the brain to continually synthesize information to encourage deeper thinking, and the technique inspires innovative thinking through generating diverse interpretations, solutions and perspectives.
fMRI scans were performed to assess brain activity while the study participants performed a task. fMRI scans were performed at the start of the study to obtain a baseline, in the middle of the study, and at the end.
All of the groups showed faster reaction times across the sessions, although the group that underwent cognitive training showed improvements in speed-related neural activity at the end of the study, had a significant increase in reaction time and lower frontal lobe activity, which is associated with the energy-efficient neural activity of younger brains. The association between reaction time and frontal lobe activation decreased in both control groups.
The study showed it is possible to train the brain to work more efficiently and think in smarter ways and counter age-related cognitive decline.
“This work paves the way for larger clinical trials to test the ability to harness the potential of the aging mind and its ability to excel – by working like a younger brain with all the rich knowledge and expertise accrued over time.” Said Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, one of the lead authors of the paper.
The study – Higher-order cognitive training effects on processing speed–related neural activity: a randomized trial – – was recently published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging.