Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Learning new skills keeps an aging mind sharp

Date:
October 21, 2013
Source:
Association for Psychological Science
Summary:
Older adults are often encouraged to stay active and engaged to keep their minds sharp, that they have to "use it or lose it." But new research indicates that only certain activities -- learning a mentally demanding skill like photography, for instance -- are likely to improve cognitive functioning. These findings reveal that less demanding activities, such as listening to classical music or completing word puzzles, probably won't bring noticeable benefits to an aging mind.

After the study, results showed that adults who were productively engaged in learning new skills showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home.
Credit: © goodluz / Fotolia

Older adults are often encouraged to stay active and engaged to keep their minds sharp, that they have to "use it or lose it." But new research indicates that only certain activities -- learning a mentally demanding skill like photography, for instance -- are likely to improve cognitive functioning.

These findings, forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveal that less demanding activities, such as listening to classical music or completing word puzzles, probably won't bring noticeable benefits to an aging mind.

"It seems it is not enough just to get out and do something -- it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially," says psychological scientist and lead researcher Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas. "When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone."

The new findings provide much-needed insight into the components of everyday activities that contribute to cognitive vitality as we age.

"We need, as a society, to learn how to maintain a healthy mind, just like we know how to maintain vascular health with diet and exercise," says Park. "We know so little right now."

For their study, Park and colleagues randomly assigned 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, to engage in a particular type of activity for 15 hours a week over the course of three months.

Some participants were assigned to learn a new skill -- digital photography, quilting, or both -- which required active engagement and tapped working memory, long-term memory and other high-level cognitive processes.

Other participants were instructed to engage in more familiar activities at home, such as listening to classical music and completing word puzzles. And, to account for the possible influence of social contact, some participants were assigned to a social group that included social interactions, field trips, and entertainment.

At the end of three months, Park and colleagues found that the adults who were productively engaged in learning new skills showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or non-demanding mental activities at home.

"The findings suggest that engagement alone is not enough," says Park. "The three learning groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills. Only the groups that were confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved."

The study is particularly noteworthy given that the researchers were able to systematically intervene in people's lives, putting them in new environments and providing them with skills and relationships:

"Our participants essentially agreed to be assigned randomly to different lifestyles for three months so that we could compare how different social and learning environments affected the mind," says Park. "People built relationships and learned new skills -- we hope these are gifts that keep on giving, and continue to be a source of engagement and stimulation even after they finished the study."

Park and colleagues are planning on following up with the participants one year and five years down the road to see if the effects remain over the long term. They believe that the research has the potential to be profoundly important and relevant, especially as the number of seniors continues to rise:

"This is speculation, but what if challenging mental activity slows the rate at which the brain ages?" asks Park. "Every year that you save could be an added year of high quality life and independence."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Association for Psychological Science. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Association for Psychological Science. "Learning new skills keeps an aging mind sharp." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 October 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021095028.htm>.
Association for Psychological Science. (2013, October 21). Learning new skills keeps an aging mind sharp. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021095028.htm
Association for Psychological Science. "Learning new skills keeps an aging mind sharp." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131021095028.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Do More Wedding Guests Make A Happier Marriage?

Newsy (Aug. 20, 2014) — A new study found couples who had at least 150 guests at their weddings were more likely to report being happy in their marriages. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

Charter Schools Alter Post-Katrina Landscape

AP (Aug. 20, 2014) — Nine years after Hurricane Katrina, charter schools are the new reality of public education in New Orleans. The state of Louisiana took over most of the city's public schools after the killer storm in 2005. (Aug. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

Researcher Testing on-Field Concussion Scanners

AP (Aug. 19, 2014) — Four Texas high school football programs are trying out an experimental system designed to diagnose concussions on the field. The technology is in response to growing concern over head trauma in America's most watched sport. (Aug. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Kids' Drawings At Age 4 Linked To Intelligence At Age 14

Newsy (Aug. 19, 2014) — A study by King's College London says there's a link between how well kids draw at age 4 and how intelligent they are later in life. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins