Cognitive Training for Older Adults: What Is It and Does It Work?

Alexandra Kueider, Krystal Bichay, and George Rebok

Older adults are more likely to fear losing their mental abilities than their physical abilities. But a growing body of research suggests that, for most people, mental decline isn’t inevitable and may even be reversible. It is now becoming clear that cognitive health and dementia prevention must be lifelong pursuits, and the new approaches springing from a better understanding of the risk factors for cognitive impairment are far more promising than current drug therapies. This brief analyzes the evidence.

Key Findings

  • Cognitive training can improve cognitive abilities. Dementia drugs cannot.
  • No single cognitive training program stands out as superior to others, but a group format based on multiple cognitive strategies seems the most promising.
  • Research comparing cognitive exercise approaches is still thin. Rigorous evaluation standards are needed.
  • Cognitive training could reduce healthcare costs by helping older individuals maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
  • No scientific evidence exists that cognitive training can prevent Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia or predementia, and more research is needed before firm conclusions can be drawn.