|Photo: David McNair|
As the old saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But as it turns out, learning new tricks may be the secret to keeping our old brains running smoothly.
Research has shown that challenging learning activities improve memory and overall cognition in older people, and that that improvement can be maintained over time.
Consider a study done by a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas a few years ago, in which 200 older people were given different activities to do. Some were tasked with forming social groups and reminiscing, and others stayed at home to watch movies or do simple games and puzzles, but others were asked to learn quilting and master a digital photography program. After three months, those who learned to use the digital photography program, by far the most challenging task, showed the most significant gains on memory tests. And they continued to show the most gains even when the tests were done again a year later.
As the old saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But as it turns out, learning new tricks may be the secret to keeping our old brains running smoothly. And we’re not talking about brain games and puzzles that are supposed to improve memory; we’re talking about learning a new skill or hobby, like playing an instrument, learning a language, mastering a new software program or even getting a degree.
According to researchers, improvements in brain function happen because leaning a new skill involves activating many different parts of the brain at once, therefore strengthening its performance as a whole. Basically, when you step out of your comfort zone and embrace something that may at first feel confusing and overwhelming, your brain begins firing on all cylinders. As a result, there can be increased verbal capacity, and memory loss can be slowed down. What’s more, learning new things can widen a person’s social circle, and the sense of accomplishment can renew a sense of purpose and inspire others.
Also, certain kinds of vocational education and training, like learning gardening or woodworking, can combine learning with exercise, which can be doubly beneficial to older people...
Denise Park, the neuroscientist and lead researcher for the University of Texas study, says it perfectly in comments made to the Association for Psychological Science. “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. When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”
Source: The Daily Progress