Facilitation of Cognition in Older Adults: Traditional and Non-Traditional Approaches to Inducing Change

Main Article Content

Denise C. Park Evan T. Smith


Plasticity is a concept of major importance in understanding the process of cognitive aging.  Differences among individuals in neuroplasticity play an important role in accounting for different trajectories of cognitive change over time. In the present paper, we define neuroplasticity as the ability to change brain and behavior and discuss cognitive training and cognitive engagement as mechanisms of change in the context of The Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition (STAC).  We review evidence for structural and functional plasticity in older adults as a function of different intervention strategies. We suggest that plasticity, particularly as expressed in changes in functional activation or connectivity, can provide a mechanism to remediate the effects of cognitive decline. While evidence that cognition can be preserved or even improved in later life by leveraging residual plasticity is growing, the field has far from a complete understanding of the mechanisms of plasticity and the factors which facilitate its expression, especially in later life.

Keywords: cognitive training, aging, engagement, cognitive plasticity, neuroplasticity

Article Details

How to Cite
PARK, Denise C.; SMITH, Evan T.. Facilitation of Cognition in Older Adults: Traditional and Non-Traditional Approaches to Inducing Change. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 10, n. 10, oct. 2022. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <https://esmed.org/MRA/mra/article/view/3192>. Date accessed: 19 june 2024. doi: https://doi.org/10.18103/mra.v10i10.3192.
Research Articles


1. Hertzog C, Kramer AF, Wilson RS, Lindenberger U. Enrichment effects on adult cognitive development: Can the functional capacity of older adults be preserved and enhanced? Psychological Science in the Public Interest [Internet]. 2008 Oct [cited 2022 Aug 31];9(1):1–65.
2. Lövdén M, Backman L, Lindenberger U, Schaefer S, Schmiedek F. A Theoretical Framework for the Study of Adult Cognitive Plasticity. Psychological Bulletin [Internet]. 2010 Jul 1 [cited 2022 Aug 31];136(4):659–76.
3. Park DC, Bischof GN. The aging mind: neuroplasticity in response to cognitive training. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience [Internet]. 2013 Mar [cited 2022 Aug 31];15(1):109–19.
4. Schubert T, Strobach T, Karbach J. New directions in cognitive training: On methods, transfer, and application. Psychological Research [Internet]. 2014 Nov [cited 2022 Aug 31];78(6):749–55.
5. Buckner RL. Memory and executive function in aging and AD: multiple factors that cause decline and reserve factors that compensate. Neuron [Internet]. 2004 Sep 30 [cited 2022 Aug 31];44(1):195–208.
6. Cabeza R, Anderson ND, Locantore JK, McIntosh AR. Aging gracefully: compensatory brain activity in high-performing older adults. NeuroImage [Internet]. 2002 Nov [cited 2022 Aug 31];17(3):1394–402.
7. Cabeza R, Daselaar SM, Dolcos F, Prince SE, Budde M, Nyberg L. Task-independent and Task-specific Age Effects on Brain Activity during Working Memory, Visual Attention and Episodic Retrieval. Cerebral Cortex [Internet]. 2004 Apr [cited 2022 Aug 31];14(4):364–75.
8. Reuter-Lorenz PA, Jonides J, Smith EE, Hartley A, Miller A, Marshuetz C, et al. Age differences in the frontal lateralization of verbal and spatial working memory revealed by PET. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience [Internet]. 2000 Jan [cited 2022 Aug 31];12(1):174–87.
9. Park, D. C., & Reuter-Lorenz, P. (2009). The Adaptive Brain: Aging and Neurocognitive Scaffolding. Annual Review of Psychology, 60(1), 173–196.
10. Reuter-Lorenz PA, Park DC. How does it STAC up? Revisiting the Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition. Neuropsychology Review. 2014;24(3):355-370.
11. Iordan AD, Cooke KA, Moored KD, Katz B, Buschkuehl M, Jaeggi SM, et al. Neural correlates of working memory training: Evidence for plasticity in older adults. NeuroImage [Internet]. 2020 Aug 15 [cited 2022 Aug 31];217.
12. Rosen AC, Prull MW, O’Hara R, Race EA, Desmond JE, Glover GH, et al. Variable effects of aging on frontal lobe contributions to memory. Neuroreport [Internet]. 2002 Dec 20 [cited 2022 Aug 31];13(18):2425–8.
13. Zając-Lamparska L. The possibility of linking spontaneous and induced neurocognitive plasticity: Can cognitive training influence compensatory brain activity in older adults? Theoretical and empirical premises. Acta Neuropsychologica [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 31];18(4):507–23.
14. Chen Q, Baran TM, Turnbull A, Zhang Z, Rebok GW, Lin FV. Increased segregation of structural brain networks underpins enhanced broad cognitive abilities of cognitive training. Human Brain Mapping [Internet]. 2021 Jul [cited 2022 Aug 31];42(10):3202–15.
15. Duda BM, Sweet LH. Functional brain changes associated with cognitive training in healthy older adults: A preliminary ALE meta-analysis. Brain Imaging and Behavior [Internet]. 2020 Aug [cited 2022 Aug 31];14(4):1247–62.
16. Basak C, Qin S, O’Connell MA. Differential effects of cognitive training modules in healthy aging and mild cognitive impairment: A comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2020 Mar [cited 2022 Aug 31];35(2):220–49.
17. Salmi J, Nyberg L, Laine M. Working memory training mostly engages general-purpose large-scale networks for learning. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews [Internet]. 2018 Oct [cited 2022 Aug 31];93:108–22.
18. Burgess GC, Gray JR, Conway ARA, Braver TS. Neural mechanisms of interference control underlie the relationship between fluid intelligence and working memory span. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General [Internet]. 2011 Nov [cited 2022 Aug 31];140(4):674–92.
19. Verhaeghen P, Basak C. Ageing and switching of the focus of attention in working memory: Results from a modified N-Back task. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A: Human Experimental Psychology [Internet]. 2005 Jan [cited 2022 Aug 31];58A(1):134–54.
20. Verhaeghen P, Cerella J, Basak C. A Working Memory Workout: How to Expand the Focus of Serial Attention From One to Four Items in 10 Hours or Less. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition [Internet]. 2004 Nov 1 [cited 2022 Aug 31];30(6):1322–37.
21. Heinzel S, Lorenz RC, Brockhaus W-R, Wüstenberg T, Kathmann N, Heinz A, et al. Working memory load-dependent brain response predicts behavioral training gains in older adults. The Journal of Neuroscience [Internet]. 2014 Jan 22 [cited 2022 Aug 31];34(4):1224–33.
22. Salmi J, Nyberg L, Laine M. Working memory training mostly engages general-purpose large-scale networks for learning. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews [Internet]. 2018 Oct [cited 2022 Aug 31];93:108–22.
23. Ripp I, Wu Q, Wallenwein L, Emch M, Yakushev I, Koch K. Neuronal efficiency following n-back training task is accompanied by a higher cerebral glucose metabolism. NeuroImage [Internet]. 2022 Jun [cited 2022 Aug 31];253:1–10.
24. Gathercole SE, Dunning DL, Holmes J, Norris D. Working memory training involves learning new skills. Journal of Memory and Language [Internet]. 2019 Apr [cited 2022 Aug 31];105:19–42.
25. Taatgen NA. The nature and transfer of cognitive skills. Psychological Review [Internet]. 2013 Jul [cited 2022 Aug 31];120(3):439–71.
26. Brehmer Y, Kalpouzos G, Wenger E, Lövdén M. Plasticity of brain and cognition in older adults. Psychological Research [Internet]. 2014 Nov [cited 2022 Aug 31];78(6):790–802.
27. Kristensen TD, Mandl RCW, Jepsen JRM, Rostrup E, Glenthøj LB, Nordentoft M, et al. Non-pharmacological modulation of cerebral white matter organization: A systematic review of non-psychiatric and psychiatric studies. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews [Internet]. 2018 May [cited 2022 Aug 31];88:84–97.
28. Nguyen L, Murphy K, Andrews G. Cognitive and neural plasticity in old age: A systematic review of evidence from executive functions cognitive training. Ageing Research Reviews [Internet]. 2019 Aug [cited 2022 Aug 31];53:100912.
29. Kawata NYS, Nouchi R, Oba K, Matsuzaki Y, Kawashima R. Auditory cognitive training improves brain plasticity in healthy older adults: Evidence from a randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience [Internet]. 2022 Mar 31 [cited 2022 Aug 31];14.
30. Kühn S, Lorenz RC, Weichenberger M, Becker M, Haesner M, O’Sullivan J, et al. Taking control! Structural and behavioural plasticity in response to game-based inhibition training in older adults. NeuroImage [Internet]. 2017 Aug 1 [cited 2022 Aug 31];156:199–206.
31. Lampit A, Hallock H, Suo C, Naismith SL, Valenzuela M. Cognitive training-induced short-term functional and long-term structural plastic change is related to gains in global cognition in healthy older adults: A pilot study. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience [Internet]. 2015 Mar 9 [cited 2022 Aug 31];7.
32. Román FJ, Iturria-Medina Y, Martínez K, Karama S, Burgaleta M, Evans AC, et al. Enhanced structural connectivity within a brain sub-network supporting working memory and engagement processes after cognitive training. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory [Internet]. 2017 May [cited 2022 Aug 31];141:33–43.
33. Chan MY, Park DC, Savalia NK, Petersen SE, Wig GS. Decreased segregation of brain systems across the healthy adult lifespan. PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [Internet]. 2014 Nov 18 [cited 2022 Aug 31];111(46):E4997–5006.
34. Iordan AD, Moored KD, Katz B, Cooke KA, Buschkuehl M, Jaeggi SM, et al. Age differences in functional network reconfiguration with working memory training. Human Brain Mapping [Internet]. 2021 Apr 15 [cited 2022 Aug 31];42(6):1888–909.
35. Boyke J, Driemeyer J, Gaser C, Büchel C, May A. Training-induced brain structure changes in the elderly. The Journal of Neuroscience [Internet]. 2008 Jul [cited 2022 Aug 31];28(28):7031–5.
36. Draganski B, May A. Training-induced structural changes in the adult human brain. Behavioural Brain Research [Internet]. 2008 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 31];192(1):137–42.
37. Muiños M, Ballesteros S. Does dance counteract age-related cognitive and brain declines in middle-aged and older adults? A systematic review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews [Internet]. 2021 Feb [cited 2022 Aug 31];121:259–76.
38. Intzandt B, Vrinceanu T, Huck J, Vincent T, Montero-Odasso M, Gauthier CJ, et al. Comparing the effect of cognitive vs Exercise training on brain MRI outcomes in healthy older adults: A systematic review. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews [Internet]. 2021 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 31];128:511–33.
39. Stine-Morrow EAL, Parisi JM, Morrow DG, Park DC. The effects of an engaged lifestyle on cognitive vitality: A field experiment. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2008 [cited 2022 Aug 31];23(4):778-786.
40. Stine-Morrow EAL, Payne BR, Roberts BW, Kramer AF, Morrow DG, Payne L, Hill PL, Jackson JJ, Gao X, Noh SR, Janke MC, Parisi JM. Training versus engagement as paths to cognitive enrichment with aging, Psychology and Agining [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2022 Aug 31];29(4):891,906.
41. Park DC, Lodi-Smith J, Drew L, Haber S, Hebrank A, Bischof GN, et al. The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: The Synapse Project. Psychological Science [Internet]. 2014 Jan [cited 2022 Aug 31];25(1):103–12.
42. McDonough IM, Haber S, Bischof GN, Park DC. The Synapse Project: Engagement in mentally challenging activities enhances neural efficiency. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience [Internet]. 2015 [cited 2022 Aug 31];33(6):865–82.
43. Woollett K, Maguire EA. Acquiring “the Knowledge” of London’s layout drives structural brain changes. Current biology : CB [Internet]. 2011 Dec 20 [cited 2022 Aug 31];21(24):2109–14.
44. Bonnechère B, Langley C, Sahakian BJ. The use of commercial computerised cognitive games in older adults: a meta-analysis. Scientific Reports [Internet]. 2020 Sep 17 [cited 2022 Aug 31];10(1):15276.
45. Toril P, Reales JM, Ballesteros S. Video game training enhances cognition of older adults: A meta-analytic study. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2014 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 31];29(3):706–16.
46. Wang H, He W, Wu J, Zhang J, Jin Z, Li L. A coordinate-based meta-analysis of the n-back working memory paradigm using activation likelihood estimation. Brain and Cognition [Internet]. 2019 Jun [cited 2022 Aug 31];132:1–12.
47. Kühn S, Lorenz RC, Weichenberger M, Becker M, Haesner M, O’Sullivan J, et al. Taking control! Structural and behavioural plasticity in response to game-based inhibition training in older adults. NeuroImage [Internet]. 2017 Aug 1 [cited 2022 Aug 31];156:199–206.
48. West R, Swing EL, Anderson CA, Prot S. The Contrasting Effects of an Action Video Game on Visuo-Spatial Processing and Proactive Cognitive Control. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health [Internet]. 2020 Jul 17 [cited 2022 Aug 31];17(14)
49. Hess TM, Growney CM, O’Brien EL, Neupert SD, Sherwood A. The role of cognitive costs, attitudes about aging, and intrinsic motivation in predicting engagement in everyday activities. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2018 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 31];33(6):953–64.
50. Payne BR, Jackson JJ, Noh SR, Stine-Morrow EAL. In the zone: Flow state and cognition in older adults. Psychology and Aging [Internet]. 2011 Sep [cited 2022 Aug 31];26(3):738–43.