Senior man looking at digital tablet provided by clinician

Repeat falls are 31% less likely over a 10-year period when older adults receive speed of processing training, a new study has found. These benefits were not apparent among older people at low risk of falling, investigators say.

The study used data from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE), a federally funded, randomized controlled trial. More than 2,800 participants aged 65 to 94 years took part in speed of processing, memory or reasoning training, or were assigned to a no-contact control group. The occurrence of subsequent falls were determined at 1, 2, 3, 5, and 10 years after the initial testing.

Mixed findings

A total of 35% of participants overall reported falls after baseline. The training appeared to have no significant effects on repeat falls among the full study sample or among the group of participants deemed to be at low risk of falling. But participants at relatively greater risk for future falls who received speed of processing training were much less likely to fall when compared to the control group. 

Speed of processing training involves correctly identifying increasingly complex visual information in order to promote fast response to stimuli while building the ability to disregard unimportant stimuli. In the study, reasoning and memory training were not linked to a reduction of falls. There also was no association between falls risk and demographic factors or cognitive status, investigators reported.

Additional intervention

“As we have shown, not everybody benefits in the same way from cognitive training,” study lead Briana Sprague, PhD, of the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana University School of Medicine said. “However, our findings support the belief that for some individuals, physical-based interventions to reduce falls may be further enhanced by cognitive training.”

Falls account for over 36,000 deaths among adults 65 and older, according to 2020 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the same year, emergency departments recorded 3 million visits linked to falls in this age group.

Full findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

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