Improving brain processing speed helps memory

February 10, 2009,

Mayo Clinic researchers found that healthy, older adults who participated in a computer-based training program to improve the speed and accuracy of brain processing showed twice the improvement in certain aspects of memory, compared to a control group.

"What's unique in this study is that brain-processing activities seemed to help aspects of memory that were not directly exercised by the program -- a new finding in memory research," says Glenn Smith, Ph.D., Mayo Clinic neuropsychologist and lead researcher on the study.

The research, a controlled, multisite, double-blind study, will be published in the April issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. A copy is available online Feb. 9, 2009.

For an hour a day, five days a week for eight weeks, study participants worked on computer-based activities in their homes. The participants, from Minnesota and California, were age 65 or older. No one had a diagnosis of cognitive impairment, such as early Alzheimer's disease.

The control group, with 245 adults, watched educational videos on art, history and literature topics. They completed quizzes on the content.

The experimental therapy group, with 242 adults, completed six auditory exercises designed to help the brain improve the speed and accuracy of processing. For example, participants were asked to distinguish between high- and low-pitched sounds. To start, the sounds were slow and distinct. Gradually, the speed increased and separation disappeared.

"The sounds go faster and faster, until it ends up sounding almost like a click," says Dr. Smith. The difficulty increases only as participants master each step with 85 percent accuracy. Other exercises, such as matching or distinguishing between similar-sounding words, for example, pop and pot, also were part of the skill building.

The commercially available program was developed by Posit Science, San Francisco company that financed the research. Mayo Clinic researchers do not have financial ties to this business.

At the end of eight weeks, researchers used a standardized tool to measure participants' memory changes. Called the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status, it includes tasks such as repeating words or numbers after hearing them once.

"We found that the improvement in these skills was significantly greater in the experimental group -- about double," says Dr. Smith.

Participants in the experimental group self-reported memory improvement, too, indicating the change was noticeable in day-to-day tasks.

While the study results are statistically significant, Dr. Smith says it is important to understand the extent of the memory boost. Collectively, the experimental group's memory function increased about 4 percent over the baseline measured at the study's onset. The control group's overall memory gain was about 2 percent.

But, Dr. Smith says, because participants were in generally good health, the results don't offer insights on preventing Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

Results indicate that aging adults may be able to make better-informed decisions about ways to improve memory. "Brain processing speed slows as we age," says Dr. Smith. "The study indicates that choosing a memory-enhancing approach that focuses on improving brain processing speed and accuracy, rather than memory retention, may be helpful."

There's no harm in trying other approaches -- mnemonics, workshops or even doing crosswords or playing piano, he says, but there's little evidence these methods sustain benefits in memory.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Explore further: New guideline: Try exercise to improve memory, thinking

Related Stories

New guideline: Try exercise to improve memory, thinking

December 27, 2017
For patients with mild cognitive impairment, don't be surprised if your health care provider prescribes exercise rather than medication. A new guideline for medical practitioners says they should recommend twice-weekly exercise ...

Mitochondrial dysfunction present early in Alzheimer's, before memory loss

February 29, 2012
Mitochondria -- subunits inside cells that produce energy -- have long been thought to play a role in Alzheimer's disease. Now Mayo Clinic researchers using genetic mouse models have discovered that mitochondria in the brain ...

Multiple sclerosis often starts in brain's outer layers: study

December 7, 2011
Multiple sclerosis (MS) may progress from the outermost layers of the brain to its deep parts, and isn't always an "inside-out" process as previously thought, reported a new collaborative study from researchers at the Mayo ...

Researchers show brain stimulation restores memory during lapses

April 20, 2017
A team of neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania has shown for the first time that electrical stimulation delivered when memory is predicted to fail can improve memory function in the human brain. That same stimulation ...

Study identifies chemical changes in brains of people at risk for Alzheimer's disease

August 24, 2011
A brain imaging scan identifies biochemical changes in the brains of normal people who might be at risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to research published in the August 24, 2011, online issue of Neurology, the medical ...

Alzheimer's-linked brain plaques may arise decades before symptoms

May 19, 2015
(HealthDay)—Abnormal protein clumps may appear in the brain up to 30 years before people develop Alzheimer's disease, a new study estimates, perhaps providing a window of opportunity to intervene.

Recommended for you

Human 'chimeric' cells restore crucial protein in Duchenne muscular dystrophy

March 16, 2018
Cells made by fusing a normal human muscle cell with a muscle cell from a person with Duchenne muscular dystrophy —a rare but fatal form of muscular dystrophy—were able to significantly improve muscle function when implanted ...

Team develops 3-D tissue model of a developing human heart

March 16, 2018
The heart is the first organ to develop in the womb and the first cause of concern for many parents.

Democratizing science: Researchers make neuroscience experiments easier to share, reproduce

March 16, 2018
Over the past few years, scientists have faced a problem: They often cannot reproduce the results of experiments done by themselves or their peers.

Genetic variant discovery to help asthma sufferers

March 16, 2018
Research from the University of Liverpool, published today in Lancet Respiratory Medicine, identifies a genetic variant that could improve the safety and effectiveness of corticosteroids, drugs that are used to treat a range ...

Researchers say use of artificial intelligence in medicine raises ethical questions

March 15, 2018
In a perspective piece, Stanford researchers discuss the ethical implications of using machine-learning tools in making health care decisions for patients.

Study identifies potential drug for treatment of debilitating inherited neurological disease

March 15, 2018
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital scientists have demonstrated in mouse studies that the neurological disease spinal bulbar muscular atrophy (SBMA) can be successfully treated with drugs. The finding paves the way for ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.