Cognitive Rehab Takes A Promising New Direction For The Aging

Studies have shown that declines in temporal information processing (TIP), the rate at which auditory information is processed, underlies the progressive loss of function across several cognitive systems in elderly people. This includes problem solving, new learning, thinking, attention, memory, perception, motor control and concept formation.

However, in a study published in the current issue of Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, researchers have found that elderly individuals who receiving temporal training improved their cognitive areas and also the rate at which they processed auditory information.

Lead researcher, Elzbieta Szelag, Professor, Head of Laboratory of Neuropsychology, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, and Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw, Poland, explained:

Our study showed for the first time significant benefits of temporal training on broad aspects of cognitive function in the elderly. The results were long-lasting, with effects confirmed 18 months after the training."

The team randomly assigned 30 elderly individuals (aged 65-75 years) to one of three groups:
  • One group received temporal training using Fast ForWord Language (FFW), a program involving several computer games designed to enhance memory, attention, and sequencing abilities.
  • One group was assigned to non-temporal training by playing common computer games.
  • One group, the control group, received no training.
The researchers performed a number of tests on all participants prior to training in order to measure their cognitive functioning. Two tests evaluated TIP by measuring sequencing abilities, specifically, at which inter-stimulus-interval participants were able to identify the order or two stimuli presented in rapid sequence.

In addition, the team evaluated three aspects of attention including: the ability to pay attention to multiple processed (divided attention), the ability to sustain attention over a longer time period (vigilance), and the ability to maintain a high level of attention in anticipation of a test stimulus (alertness).

In order to evaluate short term memory the team conducted tests assessing working memory span, the ability to match complex patterns, and the ability to recognize a pattern seen earlier.

Participants assigned to the temporal training group trained for 1 hour per day, 4 days per week, for a total of 8 weeks. These participants started with exercises from the basic module of FFW until they reached 100% complete for each exercise, they then moved onto an intermediate program, and then an advanced program.

For the same time period, participants assigned to the non-temporal training group played computer games, such as Solitaire or Internet games, such as Mahjong. Participants assigned to the control group received no training but were tested before and after the 8 week period.

At the start of the study there were no significant differences in cognitive functioning among the three groups. However, after training the team found that temporal information processing improved among those assigned to the temporal training group. 

In addition, there were improvements in some aspects of attention and short-term memory in this group. In the non-temporal training group, attentional and memory resources scores remained at the pre-training levels, while only the second measure of temporal information processing improved. There were no significant changes in the control group.

Participants assigned to the temporal training group were tested again after 18 months and the team found that the positive effects remained stable. According to the researchers, TIP, matching complex patterns, divided attention, and working memory span remained at a similar level as in the post-training evaluation. However, vigilance of attention declined.

Professor Szelag and Dr Skolimowska, said: "Although FFW does not train other cognitive functions directly, attention and short-term memory resources were necessary to perform the training tasks correctly. To succeed in the FFW games, the temporal skills had to be accompanied by efficient basic cognitive processes."

"These results show a new impact of temporal training on age-related cognitive decline in the senior population. Moreover, they foster a greater understanding of the relationships between timing and cognition, and they show new possibilities for the application of temporal training."

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