News / Health

Study: Learning New Skills Keeps Aging Mind Sharp

Jessica Berman
A new study shows that elderly adults who challenge their minds with increasingly difficult tasks maintain cognitive functioning better than those who do less demanding activities.

To keep our brains sharp as we age, we are often told to keep our minds active; “use it or lose it.” There actually is little scientific evidence to support that, however, according to psychologist Denise Park of the University of Texas at Dallas.

“Partially because it is very, very hard to do experiments with humans, where you randomly assign them to conditions where, say, you retire young, you do not retire; you do interesting things, you do boring things,” said Park.

So Park, head of the university’s Center for Vital Longevity, designed a study in which she and her colleagues randomly assigned 221 healthy aging and elderly adults to one of three groups.

“We asked people to learn new things, like quilting or photography. We asked other people to just do fun things like being in a social group. And then we asked other people to do things at home that seemingly would help their cognition or their mental function but were not likely to have a very large effect,” she said.

The participants engaged in their assigned activity for 15 hours per week over the course of three months.

At the end of that time, researchers found that the adults who learned new skills, such as digital photography or quilting or both, showed the greatest improvements on memory tests.

No improvements were seen in the scores of those in the social group that did activities together like go on field trips, nor among the third group that listened to classical music or did crossword puzzles.

Park believes the key to improved memory in the active learning group is that the participants constantly were challenged to acquire new skills, unlike those in the other two groups, who engaged in what she calls receptive activities.

While not a cure for age-related mental decline, Park thinks being actively engaged slows it down.

“So, I am not as interested in improving the function of people as they age in their later years. I am more interested in showing ultimately over time that by these novel experiences that involve a lot of mental operations that we can slow the rate at which people cognitively age,” she said.

Park said the latest data show the improvements were maintained for at least a year, and she and her colleagues plan longer term follow ups with the participants. She also is curious to learn whether engaging in demanding mental activities delays the onset of conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.   

An article on the benefit of learning new skills for the elderly is published in the journal Psychological Science.

You May Like

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the US are seeing gas prices dip below $3 a gallon More

Afghan Women's Soccer Team Building for the Future

A four-team female league was recently set up in Kabul; It will help identify players for the national team More

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

Pyongyang threatens nuclear test as joint US, S. Korean exercises show forces’ capabilities More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid