Cognitive Training, Novel Reading Offer Lasting Payoff

  • A report from the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study has shown that training to improve the cognitive abilities of older people has lasting effects. The ACTIVE study is one of many ongoing research projects supported by the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR).


    The findings of this randomized clinical trial showed that training involving the ability to think and learn lasted as long as 10 years after the training program was completed.


    The 2,832 people who volunteered for the ACTIVE study were divided into three training groups and a control group. The training groups were for memory, reasoning and speed-of-processing. The groups that were in training participated in ten sessions lasting approximately an hour for five to six weeks. Researchers measured the effects for each specific cognitive exercise immediately following the training sessions and again at one, two, three, five and 10 years following the training.

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    Referring to the study, NINR Director Patricia Grady, Ph.D. said, “ACTIVE is an important example of intervention research aimed at enabling older people to maintain their cognitive abilities as they age. The average age of the individuals who have been followed over the last 10 years is now 82. Given our nation’s aging population, this type of research is an increasingly high priority.”


    All groups showed some decline from their baseline tests in memory, reasoning and speed of processing over the past decade. However, according to NINR, the participants who had training in reasoning and speed of processing experienced less decline than those in the memory and control groups.


    The volunteers in training groups also had less difficulty performing everyday tasks than the subjects in the control group. These results suggest that dementia experts should consider cognitive training as an intervention that might help maintain the mental abilities of older people so that they can remain independent and in the community for a longer period of time.


    The report from the ACTIVE study appears in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.


     Reading a Novel Improves the Brain

    It’s not just our imagination. Reading novels can improve our brains.

    Neuroscientists at Emory University in Atlanta found in their research that reading a novel makes changes in the way the brain connects different circuits and these changes last for at least five days. While five days doesn’t suggest any permanent change, it does suggest that the rewards of reading aren’t purely that of entertainment and the benefits last long after the reader has discovered what happens at the end of the book.

    According to a report on ABC News, Emory's University’s Gregory Berns and his colleagues put 21 students through an fMRI for about 30 minutes a day for 19 days to collect their data. During the experiment the participants read the 2003 novel, "Pompeii," by Robert Harris, based on the destruction of that city by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The student’s brains were scanned for each of five days before reading the book and for five days after they had finished. During the intermittent nine days they read one chapter each evening before being scanned the following morning.

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    The result? The brain scans revealed a sharp spike in two neural networks after the first chapter of the book and the benefit continued throughout the rest of the experiment including the five days after the reading ended.

    Both of these studies seem to point to the accuracy of the conventional wisdom that keeping one’s brain active for life may help some people avoid, or at least put off, the symptoms of dementia.

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    National Institutes of Health (2013, January 13) Cognitive training shows staying power. Retrieved from


    Dye, L. (2014, January 12)  How Reading a Novel Can Improve the Brain.  Retrieved from


Published On: February 02, 2014