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."
For more information about this study or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Benjamin Porter at Ben.Porter@UTDallas.edu or (972) 883-2193
Co-authors include Linda Drew, Sara Haber, Andrew Hebrank, Gérard N. Bischof, and Whitley Aamodt, all of the University of Texas at Dallas, and Jennifer Lodi-Smith of Canisius College.
This research was supported by the National Institute on Aging by a grant to D.C. Park (NIA grant 5R01AG026589-02; NIA ARRA Supplement 3R01AG026589-03S1, NIA ARRA Challenge Grant RFA NOT-OD-09-056).
The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Anna Mikulak at 202-293-9300 or email@example.com.
Anna Mikulak | EurekAlert!
Multi-year study finds 'hotspots' of ammonia over world's major agricultural areas
17.03.2017 | University of Maryland
Diabetes Drug May Improve Bone Fat-induced Defects of Fracture Healing
17.03.2017 | Deutsches Institut für Ernährungsforschung Potsdam-Rehbrücke
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
29.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
29.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
29.03.2017 | Earth Sciences