Cognitive Exercise and Aging

There is evidence that training older adults in memory, processing speed, and reasoning skills produces substantial improvements in these skills. Moreover, these skills maintain over a number of years.1 Studies of retirement also provide additional evidence that cognitive exercise slows down the process of intellectual decay. Episodic memory is the memory of personal events. It is among the first cognitive abilities to show a decline with age. A study of the effects of retirement on episodic memory was conducted.2 It was conducted with two groups of men: one aged 50 to 54 and one aged 60-64. Twelve nations were ranked in terms of the persistence of employment into old age. If the percentage of men still working dropped by 90% from the 50 to 54 age group to the 60 to 64 age group (Austria and France) there was a 15% decline in episodic memory. If the percentage still working dropped by 25% (United States and Sweden) the decline was only 7%.

There is also correlational evidence from a study in the United Kingdom showing that an extra year of work is associated with a delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s on average by six weeks.3 These are just a few studies from a body of research showing that cognitive exercise builds a cognitive reserve that that delays the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Healthymemory Blog respects this defensive position, but advocates an offensive rather than a defensive approach in which the goal is to continue to grow and enhance cognition as we grow older.

1Ball, K., Berch, D.B., Heimers, D.F., Jobe, J.B., Leveck, M.D. Marsiske, M.,…Willis, S.L. (2002). Effects of cognitive training interventions with older adults. A randomized controlled trial. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, 288, 2271-2281. doi:10.1001/jama.288.18.2271.

2Adam, S., Bonsang, E., Germain, S., & Perelman, S. (2007). Retirement and Cognitive Reserve: A Stochastic Frontier Approach to Survey Data (CREPP Working Paper 2007/04). Liege, Belgium: Centre de Recherche on Economie et de la Population..


© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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2 Responses to “Cognitive Exercise and Aging”

  1. Stay-at-Home Caregiver Says:

    Good morning. I’ve been following your bolg for a few weeks now (Thank you for the ongoing stream of information.) but this is the first time I’ve commented. I care for a loved one who has suffered from small vessel dementia for a number of years. In the course of providing this person with adequate social stimulation, I’ve come into contact with many older people…people who exhibit a full range of cognitive abilities, some of which I see change over time. Based on my observations, it seems that working memory, that part of short-term memory that’s concerned with immediate conscious perceptual and linguistic processing, is frequently the first to become impaired. I would be interested in what others have observed anecdotally.

    • healthymemory Says:

      I think the working memory loss might be the most obvious. My Mom had lost large amounts from her Long Term Memory before I noticed. Shortly after she moved into an assisted living facility she remarked that something had happened. When I asked her if it involved a staff member or a resident, she asked me “how can I tell?” I think we can all related to an inability to recall something. But her problem I had difficulty understanding. The differences between staff and residents are rather striking, but she could not parse the scene. I think she had lost information from long term memory that enabled her to do so.

      Thank you for your kind words and for your comment. They enrich the blog and I wish that more readers would participate.

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