Cognitive Interventions for Cognitively Healthy, Mildly Impaired, and Mixed Samples of Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized-Controlled Trials

Abstract

Cognitive interventions may improve cognition, delay age-related cognitive declines, and improve quality of life for older adults. The current meta-analysis was conducted to update and expand previous work on the efficacy of cognitive interventions for older adults and to examine the impact of key demographic and methodological variables. EBSCOhost and Embase online databases and reference lists were searched to identify relevant randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) of cognitive interventions for cognitively healthy or mildly impaired (MCI) older adults (60+ years). Interventions trained a single cognitive domain (e.g., memory) or were multi-domain training, and outcomes were assessed immediately post-intervention using standard neuropsychological tests. In total, 279 effects from 97 studies were pooled based on a random-effects model and expressed as Hedges’ g (unbiased). Overall, results indicated that cognitive interventions produce a small, but significant, improvement in the cognitive functioning of older adults, relative to active and passive control groups (g = 0.298, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.248–0.347). These results were confirmed using multi-level analyses adjusting for nesting of effect sizes within studies (g = 0.362, p < .001, 95% CI = 0.275, 0.449). Age, education, and cognitive status (healthy vs. MCI) were not significant moderators. Working memory interventions proved most effective (g = 0.479), though memory, processing speed, and multi-domain interventions also significantly improved cognition. Effects were larger for directly trained outcomes but were also significant for non-trained outcomes (i.e., “transfer effects”). Implications for future research and clinical practice are discussed. This project was pre-registered with PROSPERO (#42016038386).

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Correspondence to Catherine M. Mewborn.

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Mewborn, C.M., Lindbergh, C.A. & Stephen Miller, L. Cognitive Interventions for Cognitively Healthy, Mildly Impaired, and Mixed Samples of Older Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized-Controlled Trials. Neuropsychol Rev 27, 403–439 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11065-017-9350-8

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Keywords

  • Cognitive intervention
  • Cognitive training
  • Older adults
  • Randomized-controlled trials
  • RCT
  • Meta-analysis