Brain training helps stave off cognitive decline, study finds

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Older people can benefit from a workout – a cognitive one – a new study suggests.

Certain mental exercises to improve memory, reasoning or speed of processing can offset some of the expected decline in older adults' thinking skills, according to the study, which was published in the Dec. 20 Journal of the American Medical Association. These exercises also show promise for maintaining cognitive abilities needed to do everyday tasks such as shopping, making meals and handling finances. Some benefits lasted as long as five years.

The Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE, trial included 2,802 adults aged 65 and older. Three groups at random took part in training that targeted a specific cognitive ability — memory, reasoning or speed of processing. The fourth group received no cognitive training. Immediately after the initial training, 87% of the speed-training group, 74% of the reasoning group and 26% of the memory group showed improvement in the skills taught.