Study examines comparative effectiveness of behavioral interventions for adults with mild cognitive impairment

Brain training exercises, physical activity and social interaction are among dozens of behavioral strategies recommended for older adults to maintain brain functioning, but which combinations offer the most benefit? A new study by researchers at the University of Florida, Mayo Clinic and the University of Washington begins to answer that question by comparing outcomes of five different interventions in the Mayo Clinic Healthy Action to Benefit Independence & Thinking, or HABIT, program. Their findings appear in JAMA Network Open.

Glenn Smith, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the department of clinical and health psychology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions developed HABIT along with his colleagues at Mayo Clinic. It is designed to help patients with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment maximize their cognitive function. HABIT consists of five components: memory compensation training, computerized brain fitness training, support groups, yoga and wellness education. Studies of the overall program’s impact have shown that six months after treatment, participants are still functioning as well as they did when they started.

For the new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute-funded study, Smith and colleagues asked patients with MCI and their partners to pick which outcomes matter the most to them. Researchers focused on their top four: quality of life, self-efficacy, mood and memory-based daily function. Participants were randomized to receive four of the five treatments of the HABIT program. Researchers then examined the effects of having one of the five components withheld among 272 participants.

They found that at 12 months post-intervention, those participants who did not receive wellness education had the most negative impact on quality of life. Withholding wellness education, yoga or memory compensation training was associated with negatively impacted mood. Not participating in a support group was associated with worsened self-efficacy and a lack of yoga was linked to worsened memory-based daily function.

“This study offers a starting point for evidence-based matching of patients to behavioral interventions that best impact their desired outcomes in MCI,” Smith said. “We continue to believe in the value of multi-component interventions. A mix of interventions will likely impact a broader range of outcomes.”