How Interventions Might Improve Cognition in Healthy Older Adults

How Interventions Might Improve Cognition in Healthy Older Adults

Elizabeth M. Zelinski (Davis School of Gerontology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/jgcms.2013070105


Many of the cognitive declines in healthy aging are moderated by experience, suggesting that interventions may be beneficial. Goals for aging outcomes include improving performance on untrained tasks, remediating observed cognitive declines, and ensuring preservation of functional ability. This selective review evaluates current progress towards these goals. Most research focuses on untrained tasks. Interventions associated with this outcome include games and exercises practicing specific cognitive skills, as well as aerobic exercise, and modestly benefit a relatively narrow range of cognitive tasks. Few studies have directly tested improvements in tasks on which individuals have been shown to experience longitudinal decline, so this goal has not been realized, though remediation can be examined rather easily. Little work has been done to develop psychometrically strong functional outcomes that could be used to test preservation of independence in everyday activities. Virtual reality approaches to functional assessment show promise for achieving the third goal.
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Malleability Of Cognitive Functions

The findings of cohort differences and education in explaining individual differences in older adults’ cognitive performance suggest that it is possible to protect brain function in older adults through targeted experiences. The processes affected by cognitive aging are strongly related to each other (e.g., Zelinski & Lewis, 2003), and are observed in basic processes of perception, speed, working memory, and executive control, as well as in more complex cognitive domains. This suggests that improvement of cognitive skills in older adults can be supported by training programs that reflect this complexity.

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