Brain training, caffeine may help seniors maintain memory

Maintaining a regimen of mental stimulation is often thought to be one of the best ways for seniors to stay sharp as they get older, and a new study sheds some light on just how true that is. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that seniors who took a brain exercise course saw the benefits extend for years after the classes ended, according to the findings published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Wide variety of benefits
The study looked at the brain health of nearly 3,000 older adults who had an average age of 74 at the beginning of the trial. Some of the participants were enrolled in brain training sessions that placed an emphasis on speed, memory and reasoning ability. Five years after the classes ended, researchers assessed the subjects’ on all three areas and found that those who took part in the sessions performed much better than those who did not. After five years, the memory benefits dipped but there were still gains in speed and reasoning ability.

“What we found was pretty astounding,” study leader George Rebok told Reuters. “Ten years after the training, there was evidence the effects were durable for the reasoning and the speed training.”

Future of memory care?
Researchers were interested in developing a system that could help seniors avoid some of the cognitive declines that impact independence and quality of life. While the findings don’t suggest a potential path toward preventing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, they do indicate that seniors have the ability to maintain their mental acuity as they age.

The study was not the only one to suggest innovative ways to stay sharp. In fact, a separate trial out of Johns Hopkins also suggests that caffeine may be able to offer a brief boost to memory. Researchers broke a group of adults into two, and administered a caffeine pill to one half and a placebo to the other. Relying on the subjects’ performance on a memory test 24 hours after taking the pills, researchers noticed that the caffeine group performed considerably better than those who had a placebo.

“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans,” said study leader Michael Yassa.