Date of Award

Fall 1-1-2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Nielson, Kristy A.

Second Advisor

Saunders, Stephen

Third Advisor

Gordon, Nakia

Abstract

An increasing number of empirical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of cognitive training (CT) with healthy, cognitively intact older adults. Less is known regarding the effectiveness of commercially available “brain training” programs. The current study investigated the impact of daily CT presented via the Brain Age® software for Nintendo DS on neurocognitive abilities in a sample of healthy, community-dwelling older adults. Over the six-week study, participants in the CT group completed training activities and were compared to an active control group who played card games on the Nintendo DS. At pre-test and post-test, a wide range of empirically validated neuropsychological outcome measures was administered to examine the proximal and distal transfer effects of training. Although within normal range, the average MMSE score was significantly higher in the control group at pre-test; no other baseline differences in demographics or performance on primary neuropsychological outcome measures were observed. In the CT group, estimated “brain age” decreased and performance on daily training tasks significantly improved over the six-week study period. Importantly however, performance improved from pre-test to post-test on measures of everyday verbal memory, visual working memory, and math fluency in both the CT and active control groups. Participants in the CT group rated usage of the Brain Age software as significantly more mentally challenging and endorsed greater subjective memory improvement at post-test than participants in the control group. These findings demonstrate that both CT and cognitive stimulation protocols produced transfer effects in the current study. That is, Brain Age software use led to enhanced cognitive performance over time, but it did not do in a manner that exceeded the effects achieved by general cognitive stimulation. Enhanced working memory in the CT group and executive attention in the control group are discussed as possible explanation for improved performance on the outcome measures.

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