Cognitive decline with age is well documented (e.g., Meade &Park, 2009) and a major concern for older adults (e.g., Reese &Cherry, 2004) that has implications for functional independence and everyday activity performance (e.g., Yaffe et al., 2002). A rapidly growing research effort assesses interventions to ameliorate cognitive decline with age (e.g., Hertzog et al., 2009;Willis &Schaie, 2007). Traditional cognitive skill/strategy training has typically resulted in training effects that, while durable, are concentrated on outcome measures fairly similar to the trained tasks (i.e., near transfer problem, Green &Bavelier, 2008;Kramer &Willis, 2002). Studies of training effects in young adults (e.g., Boot et al., 2008) suggest that a computer game-based approach may be more likely to yield far transfer effects, and a small but growing literature with older adults supports this idea (Basak et al, 2007). The proposed research extends previous studies (e.g., Ball et al., 2002;Berry et al., 2010;Smith et al., 2009) that have used computer games specifically designed (Mahncke et al., 2006a) to train relatively low-level auditory and visuospatial target identification and discrimination, as well as speed of processing. Smith et al. (2009) found training effects following auditory training on standardized auditory-verbal memory tests. Our pilot study yielded training effects following visuospatial training on standardized visuospatial tests. Both studies showed training effects on tests of processing speed, attention and executive control, and working memory. Taken together, these results are evidence of training specificity across auditory-verbal memory and visuospatial processing domains, and of general training of processes fundamental to complex cognition (Salthouse, 1996), namely processing speed, attention and executive control, and working memory. Important questions remain, including: To what extent are auditory and visuospatial training effects specific when compared with a common set of outcome measures? To what extent do cognitive processes common to most tasks (e.g., executive function) improve with video-game training? Are there synergistic effects of combined auditory and visuospatial training interventions? To what extent can game-specific learning effects during training predict effects in outcome measures and add to our knowledge of what is being trained? Are there declines in training effects over time that suggest "booster" training sessions are needed to maintain an effective intervention for age-related cognitive decline? Does auditory and/or visuospatial training yield the most durable training effects? The proposed study will randomly assign older adults to one of four groups: auditory (Brain Fitness, Posit Science, 2005), visuospatial (InSight, Posit Science, 2008), combination, and waitlist control. Participants will complete forty 40-60-min training sessions over an 8-10 week period. We will test participants three times (pre-training, post-training, and delayed) on a battery of neuropsychological and core cognitive tasks. Our primary outcome measures will be auditory-verbal memory and visuospatial index scores (Duff, 2009) on the RBANS (Randolph, 1998).

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research investigates the effectiveness of scientifically-designed computer game packages in stopping or reversing age-related cognitive declines. The research will evaluate whether any effects from training with the computer games lasts for several months after the training is complete. This research will assist older adults, an professionals who serve them, in making informed decisions about using such products to deal with age-related cognitive decline.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Academic Research Enhancement Awards (AREA) (R15)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-BBBP-J (91))
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King, Jonathan W
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Davidson College
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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