A recent research study indicates that only certain activities – such as learning a mentally demanding skill like photography—are likely to improve cognitive functioning. Researchers at the University of Texas in Dallas performed a study whereby 221 adults, ages 60 to 90, were randomly assigned one of three groups.
One group engaged in familiar activities at home, such as listening to classical music or completing word puzzles for 15 hours a week over the course of three months. Another group took field trips and interacted socially. The third group was assigned to learn a new skill, such as digital photography, quilting, or both. These activities required active engagement and tapped working memory, long-term memory, and other high-level cognitive processes.
At the end of three months, the researchers 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 in non-demanding activities at home. They concluded that engagement alone is not enough—all three groups were pushed very hard to keep learning more and mastering more tasks and skills.
Only the group that was confronted with continuous and prolonged mental challenge improved. So what is your new challenge going to be? For many at Unity of the Sierra, the art of Zentangle is keeping us actively engaged and mentally challenged!