Learning several new things at once may make your brain 30 years younger
In a new study, researchers found that one important way of staving off cognitive decline in older people is learning new skills as a child would.
They found that older people who learn three to five new skills at the same time could increase their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those 30 years younger.
The research was conducted by a team from the University of California, Riverside.
Previous research has shown cognitive gains of older people learning new skills, such as photography or acting. But these skills were learned one at a time, or sequentially.
In the new study, the team found learning multiple new skills at the same time in older adulthood leads to cognitive growth.
This can help people maintain independence in old age.
They tested adults 58 to 86 years old to simultaneously take three to five classes for three months.
That was about 15 hours per week, similar to an undergraduate course load.
The classes included Spanish, learning to use an iPad, photography, drawing/painting, and music composition.
The participants completed cognitive tests before, during, and after the studies to test working memory (such as remembering a phone number for a few minutes); cognitive control (which is switching between tasks) and episodic memory (such as remembering where you’ve parked).
The team found that after just 1 ½ month, participants increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to those of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger.
Control group members, who did not take classes, showed no change in their performance.
The team says that the natural learning experience from infancy to emerging adulthood mandates learning many real-world skills simultaneously.
The study shows older adults can learn multiple new skills at the same time, and doing so may improve their cognitive functioning.
Intense learning experiences are possible in older people, and they may improve cognitive abilities.
The lead author of the study is UCR psychologist Rachel Wu.
The study is published in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Psychological Sciences.
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