Working Memory Training in Older Adults

Irvine PI: Susanne Jaeggi

University of Michigan PI: John Jonides

University of Michigan Collaborators: Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, Priti Shah

Funder: US Department of Health and Human Services NIH/NIA (National Institute on Aging)

Duration: 2015-2019


There is accumulating evidence that cognitive interventions targeting working memory are beneficial in that they show generalizing effects that go beyond what has been specifically trained, i.e. transfer effects. Although it seems more difficult to observe such transfer effects in older adults as compared to young adults or children, we and others have found that some interventions do show promise in older populations. Despite the promising results, more research is needed to make our interventions more effective and more robust, and to uncover the underlying mechanisms of training in an aging population.

For our proposed studies, we envision two lines of research with different goals First, we aim to address questions of pragmatics. Our goal here is to make our intervention more accessible and inviting for participants, thus increasing their motivation to participate effectively in training regimens. In addition, we will investigate the intervention’s optimal scheduling (i.e., spacing of practice), and explore whether the improvements extend to measures of everyday functioning, and finally, investigate longitudinal effects and their trajectories over the course of one year after training completion. These are our applied goals.

Second, we propose to address the most important questions of any intervention research: The investigation of the underlying cognitive and neural mechanisms of improvement. Furthermore, we will shed light on individual differences as moderating factors for training success.

These are our mechanistic goals. Given the sparse availability of effective cognitive interventions, and the limited knowledge about their generalizing effects to applied measures of daily living, the proposed work will have important implications in that it will shed more light on the mechanisms of cognitive plasticity in old age, and serve as groundwork for future large-scale randomized clinical trials and inform future research investigating the efficacy of targeted interventions in populations that are at risk for dementia.