The Memory Fitness Program: Cognitive Effects of a Healthy Aging Intervention
Age-related memory decline affects a large proportion of older adults. Cognitive training, physical exercise, and other lifestyle habits may help to minimize self-perception of memory loss and a decline in objective memory performance. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a 6-week educational program on memory training, physical activity, stress reduction, and healthy diet led to improved memory performance in older adults. A convenience sample of 115 participants (mean age: 80.9 [SD: 6.0 years]) was recruited from two continuing care retirement communities. The intervention consisted of 60-minute classes held twice weekly with 15-20 participants per class. Testing of both objective and subjective cognitive performance occurred at baseline, preintervention, and postintervention. Objective cognitive measures evaluated changes in five domains: immediate verbal memory, delayed verbal memory, retention of verbal information, memory recognition, and verbal fluency. A standardized metamemory instrument assessed four domains of memory self-awareness: frequency and severity of forgetting, retrospective functioning, and mnemonics use. The intervention program resulted in significant improvements on objective measures of memory, including recognition of word pairs (t() = 3.62, p <0.001) and retention of verbal information from list learning (t() = 2.98, p <0.01). No improvement was found for verbal fluency. Regarding subjective memory measures, the retrospective functioning score increased significantly following the intervention (t() = 4.54, p <0.0001), indicating perception of a better memory. These findings indicate that a 6-week healthy lifestyle program can improve both encoding and recalling of new verbal information, as well as self-perception of memory ability in older adults residing in continuing care retirement communities.