Staying mentally active by engaging in activities that challenge and stimulate the mind may be a key factor in maintaining memory and other cognitive skills. A study of 469 healthy people over age 75, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that those who frequently engaged in leisure activities such as reading, playing board games, playing a musical instrument, or dancing were less likely to have developed dementia five or more years later.
Now a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (Volume 57, page 594) suggests that adults without memory impairment can sharpen their cognitive skills by using a computer-based cognitive training program.
The study examined the commercially available Brain Fitness Program, which consists of six computer-based audio exercises. Study participants were 487 adults age 65 and over who had no diagnosed cognitive impairment. Participants were randomized to spend one hour per day, five days per week, for eight weeks either training on the Brain Fitness Program or watching educational DVDs and then completing quizzes about the material.
The study found that results on an auditory memory/attention test were more than twice as high among people who trained on the Brain Fitness Program than among those who watched the DVDs. Participants who trained with the Brain Fitness Program also scored higher than the DVD watchers on a variety of other cognitive tests.
Some of the participants reported adverse events such as musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, headache, anxiety, boredom, depression, and frustration. Adverse events were about equal in both groups, with the exception of frustration, which was higher among Brain Fitness Program users than among DVD watchers.