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A study conducted by the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) sought to explore ways to improve cognitive skills of older adults. The researchers seeked to discover ways to help older individuals stay independent and take charge of their own lives.

The study group consisted of 2,800 healthy, community dwelling older adults from 6 north eastern cities. The average age was 74-years, with 14 years of education, 76% female. At the outset of the study, those potential participants with cognitive impairment were excluded. During the course of the study roughly 200 participants were found to have declined in their cognitive function, and it was this group that was of primary interest to the researchers and the focus of this report.

Participants were divided into three groups. Each group received cognitive training in one of three skill areas: 1) Memory training focused on ways to learn and remember new information—such as word lists and short narratives—and the only memory training that relied on the participant’s ability to memorize; 2) Reasoning training, which emphasized pattern detection and inductive skills to solve problems; 3) Speed-of-processing training, which addressed the speed of responses to visual and manual prompts on a computer screen. Training for each group extended over a 5-6 week period and consisted of 10 sessions that lasted 60-75 minutes.

Participants who received memory training, and had normal memory ability at the start of the study, showed significant improvement in memorization skills when compared to the control group that received no memory training. Those participants that received the reasoning, or the speed-of-processing training, showed improvement in these areas comparable to the normal control group participants.

Researchers believe the next step for this type of research would be to examine the effect of other cognitive subgroups, such as, low-reasoning or low speed-of-processing, on trainability.