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Mental Aerobics Studies

Mental Aerobics: 'Brain Play' for those who enjoy a mental challenge,
  and are interested in maintaining ability to creatively problem solve
and perhaps connect a few new dendrites.

     'Mental Aerobics' is my own idea, created and developed in 1993 while I was working as a mental health counselor in a senior center, for use with older adults in a group setting. Older adults tend to be biased against other older adults; they often refuse to go to the activities at the senior center because they don't want to be around those 'old people'! Older people sometimes mistakenly believe that other older people are 'senile' and boring. I designed this program to prove to older adults that they, and their peers, can still think creatively and positively, and enjoy doing it.

    Mental Aerobics is fun!  At the time I created it, I was an Odyssey of the Mind coach. I tried using some of the same concepts of thinking outside the box and spontaneous problem solving with a group of older adults, and they loved it!  An expected side effect of Mental Aerobics has been the opportunity for older adults who participate in the sessions to meet and mingle with other like-minded senior citizens, and develop social relationships outside the sessions. 

    "Mental Aerobics presents various types of ‘brain games’ to be solved in a group setting of superannuated adults. Those with an abundance of years are encouraged to believe in their continuing ability to problem solve by their own successful performances."  -Dr. Bert Hayslip

 Academic Studies
1.    Mental Aerobics has been studied in a formal academic setting three times. The first study was published in 1999 in Educational Gerontology: an International Journal, Vol 25, #1, "Mental Aerobics: Exercises for the Mind in Later Life", Kay Paggi & Bert Hayslip.         
(http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/036012799267972#preview. )  Examples of the material used in Mental Aerobics were included in this article, and some are shown below.

The introduction to this article reads:
Mental Aerobics is a program designed to enhance the self-esteem and cognitive functioning of older adults in the context of weekly group sessions where the emphasis is on having fun, the cooperative sharing on ideas, and the development of solutions to challenging problems. Loosely based on the creative thinking concepts of the Odyssey of the Mind program, the counselor/facilitator brings to the group puzzles, logical and matrix problems, and both math and word problems to be solved. Older persons who may no longer believe they can produce creative answers and solve such problems are encouraged to believe in themselves by their own successful performances. The program is quite adaptable, and its format can be changed to fit a variety of settings to include intergenerational ones.

      Bert Hayslip, PhD, is a Regents Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of North Texas, has been intrigued by the concepts of Mental Aerobics from its inception. After the initial publication, which was a description of the Mental Aerobics program, he obtained a grant to study Mental Aerobics during the academic year 2004-2005. The goal was to determine whether Mental Aerobics has a measurable positive effect on the participants. The study participants were community dwelling older adults who came into the sessions from their homes. 
     Upon statistical analysis the resulting data supported evidence that  Mental Aerobics has  a positive effect on the participants’ cognitive skills and their confidence in their skills, and a corresponding positive effect on the quality of their lives.
      The study was designed with half of the participants in a control group that did not participant in the study, and half randomly assigned to participate in a 6-week Mental Aerobics workshop. Both groups were given surveys to complete at the beginning and the end of the collection period. Those surveys were analyzed to determine what effects participation in Mental Aerobics had on the participants. The youngest participant among the groups was 59 and the oldest was 78; the midpoint was age 71.

    In general terms, here is what was found: 
 ·   Those who participated in Mental Aerobics felt more confident about their ability to use their minds than did those who were placed on the waiting list. This is an important outcome; it means that challenging yourself is important in order to stay mentally active.
·    Participants in Mental Aerobics felt more confident about their ability to handle finances (pay bills, etc.) than did those in the control group.
-    Mental Aerobics participants aged 71 years or older had more confidence in their ability to use their minds, relative to those of their same age who in the control group.
  -  Participants with a college degree were more likely to report experiencing mental slip-ups (such as, forgetting why you went from one part of the house to the other) in comparison to participants who were less educated. This seems to indicate that more highly educated people become more aware of mental slip-ups after participating. Becoming aware of everyday slip-ups is the first step to correcting them, so this is a surprising, but nevertheless positive, finding.

    This project proved to the researchers that Mental Aerobics can indeed be helpful to older persons. They also found that most people enjoyed the social interaction, the opportunity to work with other mental alert elders, and the challenge of solving new and difficult problems. They also had fun!

2.       Mental Aerobics and the results of this study were presented at the 2006 National Conference on Cognitive Aging. The results of this study were published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology in May 2015.

    The abstract reads:
Mental Aerobics (MA) is a cognitively oriented intervention designed to improve older adults’ perceptions of their cognitive ability as well as positively impact their performance. Forty-seven community-residing older adults (M age = 67.39, SD = 5.75) were randomly assigned to either a treatment (n = 24) or a waiting list control (n = 23) group. Participants in both treatment and control conditions completed measures of depression, self-rated health, cognitive functioning, and cognitive self-efficacy. Findings support the conclusion that MA can be an effective intervention in improving older adults’ affectivity, everyday task self-efficacy, and self-rated health. The impact of MA on measures of generalized fluid ability (Gf) and generalized crystallized ability (Gc) skills was moderated by level of education. The subsequent provision of MA training to controls minimized the performance differences between the treatment and control conditions, as well as the moderating effect of level of education. These findings suggest that MA can be effectively used to enhance older adults’ views of their skills, critical to efforts to maintain cognitive functioning into later life, although some older persons may benefit to a greater extent than others.".

"…  Likewise, the reported success of the Experience Corps, where older adults serve as mentors in the public schools with benefits for themselves and the children with whom they work (see Fried et al., 2003), as well as the current popularity of “brain exercises” (see, for example, www.luminosity.com) reflect the interest in efforts promoting cognitive engagement in later life. Indeed, unchallenged assumptions about declines in cognition could affect an older person’s self-esteem, further exacerbating potential depression and isolation, contributing to further losses in cognitive functioning. That this may be the case is evidenced by the work of Hess, Auman, Colcombe, and Rahhal (2003) who found that when older adults are exposed to negative stereotypes about memory and aging they perform more poorly on memory recall tasks than do their counterparts who are not exposed to such negative stereotypes. This poor performance and the subsequent interpretation of it lead to decreased cognitive self-efficacy. Indeed, older adults who believe that their cognitive skills are deficient (see Hayslip & Cooper, 2012; Schaie, Willis, & O’Hanlon, 1994) may avoid activities that require cognitive effort (Paggi & Hayslip, 1999). By avoiding such activities, they lose opportunities to contradict their belief in their own perceived cognitive decline. Mental Aerobics (MA), developed by the second author in 1993, incorporates many of these elements (productive engagement, cognitive stimulation, social engagement). MA (see Paggi & Hayslip, 1999) is partly based spontaneous drills used for creative thinking practice (see Parisi, Greene, Morrow, & Stine-Morrow, 2007). MA is designed to enhance adults’ cognitive self esteem and improve everyday (cognitive) functioning, wherein in addition to spontaneous creativity drills, MA also uses math problems, spatial puzzles, verbal exercises, and other mental games to stimulate thinking. Importantly, MA is interactive; it is a challenging, yet entertaining experience for older adults in the company of age peers who are also motivated to use and improve their mental skills (Paggi & Hayslip, 1999). It therefore is both social and cognitive in nature, combining factors which have been noted as potentially protective in minimizing cognitive decline in later life (Stine-Morrow &Basak, 2011; Williams et al., 2010).  “MA’s dual emphasis upon social and cognitive engagement is also consistent with the impact of noncognitive factors on cognitive functioning in later life (Hayslip & Maiden, 2005). Moreover, the interpersonal nature of MA is reflected in the attention paid to the interpersonal and emotional influences on later life cognition (see Hayslip, 1989a, 1989b; Williams et al., 2010).  This is significant in that there are relationships between engagement in cognitively stimulating social and mental activities and what has been termed cognitive vitality ….”

The Impact of Mental Aerobics Training on Older Adults


3.   The third academic publication about Mental Aerobics resulted from a second formal research project conducted in a community for memory impaired people. Again there were 2 groups, one a control group who did not participate in sessions, and the other group of memory care residents who did participate. There was a measurable difference after 6 sessions. This study has been published in the Clinical Gerontologist: The journal of aging and mental health, Vol 32, #4, p.389, "The Impact of Mental Aerobics Training on Memory Impaired Older Adults", Hayslip, Paggi, Poole, and Pinson.   http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07317110903112233#preview.


The introduction to this article reads in part

"....indicated that MA program residents' ratings were more likely to improve over time, relative to those of the control group, for interpersonal skills, emotional functioning, cognitive/memory functioning, relationships with staff, and reliance on medications to control behavior or remember things. For everyday activity/involvement  and reliance on medications, the effects of MA training were the most substantial. These pilot findings suggest MA has potential in positively impacting cognitively impaired older adults."

I will be delighted to come to your organization or club and do a Mental Aerobics Demonstration. Call me to set a date. 972-839-0065.
Remember, the point is NOT to find the answers. The point is to THINK and exercise your brain! Answers are a bonus.

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