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Getting a mental workout may be best way to preserve memory

April 17, 2013

Many seniors cite staying mentally sharp as one of the most important facets of healthy aging and take significant steps to do so. Everything from supplements to physical activity have been floated as potential methods to maintain cognitive function as you get older, but new research suggests that any kind of mental exercise, whether it be completing crossword puzzles or reading, is better than some other options.

Published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the findings are based off an analysis of more than 30 previously conducted trials. In particular, researchers focused on a trio of studies that measured the cognitive performance of seniors who participated in computer training programs or one-on-one instruction meant to boost their memory. Study authors determined that two of the three trials in question helped participants improve both their memory and attention. Interestingly, researchers also discovered that supplements including gingko were not quite as effective as many may believe. Experts hope the findings open new doors to potential treatments.

"Future studies should address the impact of cognitive training on the prevention of cognitive decline, and we encourage researchers to consider easily accessible tools such as crossword puzzles and Sudoku that have not been rigorously studied," said study author Dr. Raza Naqv.

The results are particularly significant given the prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) - a condition that's often seen as a precursor to more serious health issues such as Alzheimer's disease. In fact, experts estimate that it affects anywhere between 10 and 25 percent of adults 70 and older. MCI is not serious enough to interfere with activities of daily living and perhaps by implementing some of the findings from this recent study, those with the condition can stave off its progression.