An international team of scientists has demonstrated that just one month of training on a “Virtual Week” computer brain game helps older adults significantly strengthen prospective memory – a type of memory that is crucial for planning, everyday functioning and independent living.
Seniors who played the cognitive-training game “more than doubled” the number of prospective memory tasks performed correctly compared to control groups that performed other activities such as music classes.
The promising results are reported by the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences, which led the study, and posted online today in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, ahead of print publication.
Prospective memory refers to the ability to remember and successfully carry out intentions and planned activities during the day; it also tends to weaken with age. Prospective memory accounts for between 50 – 80% of reported everyday memory problems, yet few studies have attempted to train or rehabilitate prospective memory in older adults.
What makes this study unique is that it’s the first to incorporate a “train for transfer” approach – essentially a training intervention designed to have participants practice performing real-world prospective memory tasks in simulated everyday settings and assess whether the cognitive gains transfer to successful performance at home.
“As the world’s population ages, it is becoming increasingly important to develop ways to support successful prospective memory functioning so that older adults can continue to live independently at home without the need for assisted care,” said Nathan Rose, lead investigator of the study and now a research fellow in the School of Psychology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. Senior author on the paper is Dr. Fergus Craik, an internationally-known memory researcher based at Baycrest.
“While these results are encouraging, they represent a first step in exploring the efficacy of prospective memory training with the Virtual Week training program,” said Dr. Craik. “Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that training in the lab resulted in improvements in real-life memory tasks. This lab-to-life transfer has been difficult to achieve in previous studies.”
In the study, scientists developed a version of a computerized board game called “Virtual Week” in which players simulate going through the course of a day on a circuit that resembles a Monopoly board. Players roll a virtual die (one of a pair of dice) to move their token through a virtual day. Along the way, players have to remember to perform several prospective memory tasks, such as taking medication or taking their dinner out of the oven at appropriate times.
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