On occasion, all of us have forgotten someone’s name, misplaced our glasses, or walked into a room and not remembered why they entered? More than 50% of all seniors suffer from memory decline; those over 80 are the most vulnerable. The results of a new UCLA study, released on August 29 and published in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, reported that a memory fitness program offered to older adults in their senior living communities helped improve their ability to recognize and recall words, benefitting their verbal learning and retention. The study also found that as a result of the program, seniors’ self-perceived memory improved, an important factor in maintaining a positive outlook on life while aging. The average age of participants in the study was 81. “It was exciting to see how much older adults participate in a memory fitness program and improve,” said study author Dr. Karen Miller, an associate clinical professor at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. “The study demonstrates that it’s never too late to learn new skills to enhance one’s life.” As people age, it takes longer to learn new information and to retrieve it, including names, dates, the location of household objects, meetings, and appointments, according to the study’s senior author, Dr. Gary Small, UCLA’s Parlow-Solomon Professor on Aging and director of the UCLA Longevity Center.
The six-week, 12-session program differed from other cognitive training courses in that it offered not only memory-training techniques but also education about lifestyle factors that may impact memory ability and overall brain health. Participants learned stress-reduction exercises and were instructed about the importance of daily physical exercise and maintaining a healthy diet rich in antioxidants. The study involved 115 seniors at two full-service retirement communities in Maryland that are part of Erickson Living, a leading continuing-care community developer and manager. Participants lived in the “independent” level of care in these communities and had memory complaints; however, they had not been diagnosed with dementia and were not taking any medications for memory loss. Half the participants were enrolled in the memory fitness program and received memory testing before beginning the program and after completion to assess improvement. The other half were placed on a waiting list for the program and acted as study controls. Among the older adults attending the classes, the researchers found marked improvement in verbal memory, as well as improvements in how they perceived their memory, compared with the controls.
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