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Reading and solving arithmetic problems improves cognitive functions of normal aged people: a randomized controlled study

Abstract

The relationship between mental exercise and mental aging is a controversial issue. People generally believe the so-called mental-exercise hypothesis, that is, the age-related decline in cognitive function is less pronounced for people who are mentally active, yet there is insufficient scientific evidence supporting this hypothesis. Previous randomized controlled trial studies showed convincing beneficial effects of cognitive training on directly targeted cognitive functions. In this study, we performed a single-blind, randomized controlled trial on cognitive intervention in 124 community-dwelling seniors (age range, 70 to 86) and estimated the beneficial effects of non-targeted cognitive functions. As for cognitive intervention, the subjects were asked to solve systematized basic problems in reading and arithmetic every day for 6 months. Neuropsychological measures were determined prior to and 6 months after the intervention (post-test) by mini-mental state examination (MMSE), frontal assessment battery at bed side (FAB), and digit-symbol substitution test (DST) of WAIS-R. The FAB and DST scores showed a statistically significant (p<0.001 and p<0.01, respectively) improvement in the post-test compared with the pre-test, such improvement was maintained up to 6 months of follow-up tests in only the experimental group. The transfer effect of cognitive intervention by reading and solving arithmetic problems on non-targeted cognitive functions was demonstrated in this study. This study shows that daily mental training can improve cognitive functions in normal adults. Although general interests in brain training have been increasing in the public, evidence for its beneficial effects, particularly the positive transfer effect on non-targeted cognitive function still remains insufficient. Here, we introduce a new cognitive intervention program for normal aged people, the concept of which is derived from the knowledge of both brain science and clinical studies. We performed a carefully designed single-blind, randomized controlled study, and the results of this study showed convincing evidence that cognitive training provides the beneficial transfer effect.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Professor Ichiro Tsuji at the Graduate School of Medicine, Tohoku University, for suggestion and collaboration for experimental setup and design. We also thank all stuff members involved in “Tsurugaya Project”, and Kumon Learning Center c/o for technical support for cognitive measures and intervention. This study was supported by RISTEX, JST, and a collaborative study between Tohoku University and Sendai City (Gakuto collaboration research project).

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Correspondence to Ryuta Kawashima.

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Uchida, S., Kawashima, R. Reading and solving arithmetic problems improves cognitive functions of normal aged people: a randomized controlled study. AGE 30, 21–29 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-007-9044-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-007-9044-x

Keywords

  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Daily intervention
  • Randomized controlled study
  • Reading
  • Arithmetic