AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Research Shows Active Learning Improves Cognitive Function in Older Adults

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Older adults who learn a new, mentally demanding skill can improve their cognitive function, according to research conducted by Canisius College in New York and the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity. During the study, researchers randomly assigned 221 adults, ages 60-90, 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. “At the end of three months, we found that only the group who learned digital photography grew in their memory skills,” said a lead researcher. The participants were computer novices, and had to remember a series of steps, learn to use Adobe Photoshop, and mount their photos. The key, researchers said, is that the group was productively engaged and consistently challenged during their activity. To account for the possible influence of social contact, some participants were assigned to a group that included field trips and entertainment. “So when we see all these media reports that tell people that they should get involved socially, or do crossword puzzles or Sudoku, they are just not as beneficial as learning something new where you really have to put that effort in.” Next steps for further research include potential methods for improving psychological function for older adults. To read more about this study, click here.

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