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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anna Mikulak | EurekAlert!
Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Oxygen loss in the coastal Baltic Sea is “unprecedentedly severe”
05.07.2018 | European Geosciences Union
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
Ultra-short, high-intensity X-ray flashes open the door to the foundations of chemical reactions. Free-electron lasers generate these kinds of pulses, but there is a catch: the pulses vary in duration and energy. An international research team has now presented a solution: Using a ring of 16 detectors and a circularly polarized laser beam, they can determine both factors with attosecond accuracy.
Free-electron lasers (FELs) generate extremely short and intense X-ray flashes. Researchers can use these flashes to resolve structures with diameters on the...
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Event News
13.07.2018 | Materials Sciences
13.07.2018 | Life Sciences