Research from the University of Texas' Center for BrainHealth has found that strategy-based reasoning training can improve cognitive performance for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).
Characterised by a change in memory and decision-making capabilities, MCI is often considered a significant warning sign that a person may develop Alzheimer's disease in the future and lose further cognitive abilities.
During the study, which was conducted alongside the University of Illinois, 50 adults between the ages of 54 and 94 with MCI were randomly assigned to either a strategy-based, gist reasoning training group or a new-learning control group.
The first group were given and asked to practice strategies to help make complex information easier to absorb, while the new-learning participants used a school-like method where they were taught and asked to discuss facts about how the brain works and what factors influence brain health.
Both groups had two hour-long training sessions each week but the gist reasoning group focused more on higher-level brain functions such as being able to ignore distractions and irrelevant details and focus on what is important or generating new ideas to solve problems.
Assessments carried out before and after the training sessions looked at changes in cognitive functions between the two groups.
It found that people in the gist reasoning group improved in executive function - shown by their ability to recall more important items over less important ones - and memory span - how many details a person can retain after just one exposure. In contrast, the new learning participants improved in detail memory - their ability to remember details from contextual information.
The researchers hope the study, published online in the open-access journal International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, will lead to further investigation into the long-term benefits of such training and how the brain changes.
"Changes in memory associated with MCI are often disconcerting, but cognitive challenges such as lapses in sound decision-making and judgment can have potentially worse consequences," said Dr Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director at the Center for BrainHealth.
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