Study: Older Adults May Reverse Cognitive Decline With One Simple Strategy

(AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

From time immemorial, that adults lose cognitive ability over time has been taken for granted. The conventional wisdom is that loss of mental faculties is a natural consequence of the aging process.


However, recent research published in Aging and Mental Health calls that assumption into question, demonstrating that, in fact, not only can cognitive decline be prevented through lifestyle interventions alone, but it can potentially be reversed through cognitive gains even late in life.

The researchers designed their experiment by subjecting elderly participants to simultaneous training in three new skills over a course of three months and then testing their cognitive performance to compare to the baseline results from tests conducted before the experiment began.

Also read: Biden Makes Best Case Yet for Presidential Age Limit

Altogether, 33 volunteers participated in the trial — not a huge sample size, which would indicate a need for further study to potentially replicate the results.

Via Aging and Mental Health  (emphasis added):

The present study investigated the long-term (one-year) cognitive effects in older adults after simultaneously learning at least three new real-world skills for three months in two separate intervention studies. Linear mixed-effects models for both Studies 1 and 2 revealed that older adults continued to increase their cognitive abilities even after one year from the end of the intervention. Compared to pre-test scores, Study 1 had significant increases in cognitive composite scores, driven by cognitive control, as well as increases in verbal episodic memory (RAVLT) by the 6-month follow-up. For Study 2, participants improved in all measures across all three follow-up periods compared to baseline assessments, apart from Digit Span scores. Overall, these findings supported most of our hypotheses and indicate that a multi-skill learning intervention has the potential to induce long-lasting cognitive improvements in older adults.


Via Neuroscience News, the lead researcher summarized the takeaway:

Remarkably, the cognitive scores increased to levels similar to undergraduates taking the same cognitive tests for the first time,” [study author] Wu said. “Our finding of continuous cognitive growth in older adulthood is unique because most studies show only maintenance of cognitive abilities or cognitive decline over time.

Wu’s study comes on the heels of other research that suggests keeping your mind active late into life by challenging yourself with learning new skills or engaging in intellectual pursuit staves of neurodegeneration.

Whatever the activity, the most important factor is getting outside of your “comfort zone,” meaning learning a new task or engaging in an activity that requires the creation of new neuronal networks.

Via Science Daily:

“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.”



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