Brain Games won’t go away because there is such a strong impetus to improve memory in older adults now that we know that brain neurons do regenerate. The first results were equivocal (see Part One); later results are more encouraging. Last fall (September 2013) the scientific journal Nature published a study by researchers at the University of California at San Francisco showing that a computer driving game did improve short-term memory and long-term focus in older adults. These findings are significant because the research found that improvements weren’t limited to the game but also appeared to be linked to a strengthening of older brains overall, helping them to perform better at other memory and attention tasks.
Of greater importance, perhaps, is that in addition, brain monitoring during the study showed that in older adults, game training led to bursts in brain waves associated with attention: the patterns were similar to those seen in much younger brains.
And there’s more. In January, 2014, a randomized trial of cognitive training in older healthy adults found that gains in reasoning and speed through brain training lasted as long as ten years. This study, financed by the National Institute of Health, recruited 2,832 volunteers with an average age of 74. The participants were divided into three training groups for memory, reasoning and speed of -processing. There was also one control group.
The groups took part in ten training sessions of 60 to 75 minutes over five to six weeks. Researchers measured the effect of the training five times over the next ten years.
Five years after training, all three groups still demonstrated improvements in the skills in which they had trained. However, the training did not carry over into other areas. But after ten years, the reasoning and speed-of-processing continued to show improvement.
There was also a curious, unexpected and gratifying finding: people in the reasoning and speed-of-mental-processing group had 50% fewer accidents than those in the control group!