Last week the San Jose Mercury News published the results of a significant research study conducted at the University of Florida. Researchers found that seniors who received as little as 10 sessions of specialized mental training gained improvements in their reasoning and processing skills which lasted up to a decade after the training.
Almost 3,000 individuals between 65 and 96 participated in the 10-week training sessions, which included work in reasoning, memory, and speed of processing. Each session lasted from 60 to 75 minutes.
After the training, researchers assessed the individuals immediately afterward and at several additional points over a 10-year period. They found that from 70-75% of participants were still performing above their baseline scores in reasoning and speed-of-processing skills over a 10-year period, although memory improvements were not sustained significantly. However, individuals in the training groups reported less difficulty with daily living tasks, including medication management, shopping, and housework.
The significance of these findings for aging baby boomers cannot be overlooked. As one of the researchers pointed out, the study disproves the common myth that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. The research findings also suggest that older adults should focus on learning new skills and taking on new mental challenges as they age, whether that be learning to play a musical instrument, learning a new language, or playing unfamiliar video games.
January is national Mental Wellness Month. As such, it seems a particularly apt time to begin our own mental exercise programs. And for those of us who work with older adults, we should be both encouraged and challenged by the findings of the study. It’s never too late for any of us to learn new skills or maintain old ones!
To learn more about the study, originally published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, read the San Jose Mercury News’ more detailed research summary.