Posts Tagged ‘older adults’

Behavioral Training to Improve Sight

April 29, 2015

This title is the second part of the article “Improving Vision Among Older Adults:  Behavioral Training to Improve Sight,” by DeLoss, Watanabe, and Andersen in Psychological Science Online First, March 6 2015 as dii:10.1177/0956797614567510.  Age-related decline in visual function could be due to optical, retinal, cortical, or pathological changes, there also appears to be a cortical locus as a result of decreased inhibition  in the visual cortex.

This study assessed whether perceptual learning could be a possible intervention to counteract age related declines in contrast sensitivity.  Younger and older subjects performed an orientation-discrimination task using sine wave gratings that varied in contrast.  The researchers assessed whether training improved performance for targets at a specific location, transferred to targets at an untrained orientation, and transferred to other tasks ( near- and far-acuity tasks, for example).

Sixteen younger adults (mean age=22.43) and 16 older adults (mean age=71.23) participated in the experiment.  The experiment consisted of 1.5 hr per day of testing and training over 7 days.  Participants were required to complete the study within 3 weeks of their first testing session.

The major finding of the study is that five days of training for older adults resulted in performance that was not statistically different from that of younger adults prior to training.  Clearly perceptual learning  can be used to counter age-related declines in contrast sensitivity.  The authors note that a these improvements are the result of changes in sensory process and not due to the optical efficiency of the eye.

Both age groups also showed significant transfer of learning to an untrained orientation.   Another important finding is that both younger and older individuals showed significant improvement in acuity with perceptual-learning training.  These improvements  in acuity were associated with the range of acuity most problematic for each age group.  Younger individuals showed an improvement in far acuity, whereas older individuals showed improvement in near acuity.  These improvements were substantial resulting in an average of from two to three additional letters on the acuity charts after training.   So the benefits of this training is not restricted to older adults.

This research provides strong evidence of the plasticity of visual processing as we age.  Further research is needed to determine how much more improvement could be gained by additional training.  Let us hope that such research will be done expeditiously and that programs will be developed for dissemination to the general population..

Making Working Memory Work for Older Adults

October 25, 2014

This blog post is taken from the article in Psychological Science (8 October 2014 DOI: 10.1177/095679761458725) by Julia Karbach and Paul Verhaeghen titled “Making Working Memory Work: A Meta-Analysis of Executive-Control and Working Memory Training in Older Adults.” It examined the effects of process-based executive-function and working memory training in older adults (>60 years). This analysis included 49 articles and 61 independent samples. This is an extremely important article for a couple of reasons. Weaknesses in the cognitive performance of older adults have been localized to fluid intelligence, the activities that involve executive control and working memory. As we know from the healthymemory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline” the crystalized intelligence of older adults holds steady and even grows. The sometimes apparent slowness in recall and the difficulty in recalling certain items is due to the enormous amount of information that has accumulated in memory. Most, if not all, of those memories are available if not accessible and will pop into memory at some later time.

The second reason that this article is so important is that it is a meta-analysis of the relevant literature. A meta-analysis is a review and synthesis of the research. And it is the most impressive meta-analysis I have every read. It uses a sophisticated quantitative methodology, one that circumvents the problems noted in the healthymemory blog post, “Most Published Research Findings are False.” This meta-analysis can be regarded as a Gold Standard for meta-analyses.

So the conclusion is clear that these interventions do improve cognitive functions in the aging brain. Moreover, older people benefit just as much as younger people. Previously found age differentials do not maintain.

As an item for future research the authors argue that follow-up research should address the question as to whether the benefits of these interventions will hold over time. Frankly I find this question to be naive and unnecessary. The answer depends on whether these individuals continue to exercise their capabilities after the formal training ends. If someone takes golfing lessons and then does not play golf, would it be surprising if golfing skill declined? If someone learns to play a musical instrument and then no longer plays once the lessons have stopped, would it not be expected that performance on the instrument would decline. So the answer to the questions depends on whether the individual continues to be cognitively engaged and continues to engage in effortful learning (see the healthymemory blog post “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.”

This is the constant theme of the healthymemory blog. Stay both cognitively and socially engaged and continue to learn till the very end.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. 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.