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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid