Cognitive decline, ranging from mild cognitive impairment to dementia, is an increasing problem in the elderly. There are 36 million people worldwide living with dementia; this is estimated to rise to 100 million by 2050 as the number of people over the age of 65 increases.
It has previously
been shown that high levels of mental activity can reduce the risk of
dementia, suggesting that increasing mental activity in older people
using cognitive training
is a promising approach to reduce the rate of cognitive decline. In
line with this hypothesis, a number of studies have investigated the
effects of cognitive training in the elderly, with contrasting results.
For example, one study showed that the training had positive effects on mental functioning more than 3 months later, whereas another found no evidence
that cognitive training affects the development of Alzheimer’s disease
in the elderly. Previous investigations have largely investigated
single-domain cognitive training, with a focus on one aspect of mental
health such as memory or reasoning.
In a randomized controlled trial published in BMC Medicine, Chunbo Li and colleagues from Tong University School of Medicine in Shanghai investigated the effects of both single-domain and multi-domain cognitive training in healthy elderly people. Multi-domain training involved map reading, craft making, physical exercise, memory and reasoning exercises, whereas single domain training focused specifically on reasoning. The authors found that multi-domain training significantly improved cognitive function as measured by the RBANS test, as well as visual reasoning, attention, memory and visuospatial awareness. Single-domain cognitive training gave rise to improvements in attention only. These results show that cognitive training can improve mental functioning in the elderly, and that multi-domain training has a greater effect than single-domain training.
The study by Li and colleagues is the first randomized controlled trial to compare the effects of single- and multi-domain cognitive training in the healthy elderly, and suggests that multi-domain training shows promise to protect against cognitive decline. Future studies could extend this work to compare the effects of single- and multi-domain training on the development of dementia, and confirm whether cognitive training is an effective way to prevent the decline of mental health in the elderly.