One in four adults, aged 65 or above, experiences an annual fall in the United States. These falls result in around 36,000 fatalities each year within this demographic, positioning it as the primary source of death due to injuries among elderly individuals in the U.S. Could cognitive training help with fall prevention?

A fresh analysis, spearheaded by Briana Sprague, PhD, a research scientist at Regenstrief Institute, investigates the potential of cognitive training—particularly in the areas of speed of processing, memory, and reasoning—to mitigate the risk of falls. Notably, the study revealed no discernible impact of the training on the probability of falling among individuals at a low risk of falling. 

Nonetheless, older adults with a higher susceptibility to future falls, often attributable to a prior fall, exhibited a 31% reduced likelihood of experiencing subsequent falls over a span of 10 years when they underwent speed of processing training. In contrast, individuals at high risk for falls who did not receive this cognitive training did not demonstrate such improvements. Speed of processing training entails accurately recognizing progressively intricate visual information, enabling individuals to respond more swiftly to stimuli while disregarding irrelevant ones.

“Recently, there has been a growing interest in understanding the correlation between cognitive abilities and physical mobility. Our study, utilizing extensive data from 2,802 older adults who initially exhibited high mental functioning, observed that cognitive training did not generally prevent falls. However, it did demonstrate efficacy for individuals at a high risk of falling who received a specific type of cognitive intervention – speed of processing training,” explains Sprague. “As our findings indicate, the benefits of cognitive training vary among individuals. Nevertheless, our results support the notion that incorporating cognitive training alongside physical-based interventions can potentially augment fall prevention efforts for certain individuals.”

Each year, roughly 3 million elderly individuals in the United States seek medical attention in emergency departments due to fall-related injuries. Additionally, over 800,000 older adults are hospitalized annually for head injuries or hip fractures resulting from falls. These incidents frequently initiate a detrimental decline in mobility and overall health for the affected individuals.

Per the CDC, healthcare expenses linked to falls among individuals aged 65 and above reached a sum of $50 billion in 2015, with Medicare and Medicaid jointly covering 75% of this amount.

“Within this study, which we deem to be the initial investigation scrutinizing the impact of cognitive training on the 10-year risk of falls, we observed no correlation between the incidence of falls and demographic factors or cognitive state,” says Sprague. “This outcome could potentially be attributed to the baseline high cognitive functioning of the study participants, who ranged from 65 to 94 years of age during the commencement of data collection.”

In upcoming research endeavors, Sprague and collaborators intend to explore the connection between multi-component lifestyle interventions, encompassing aspects such as nutrition and exercise, and their impact on both physical and brain health.

Does Cognitive Training Reduce Falls across Ten Years?: Data from the ACTIVE Trial” is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.