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An important recent finding
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Copyright © 2012-2013
James Emil Flege
Denise Park (Center for Vital Longevity, UT-Dallas) and Gérard  Bischof cite studies which
suggest that "older adults who maintain an active lifestyle or who engage in a range of
intellectual pursuits are diagnosed at later ages with Alzheimer's disease. In fact, there is
compelling evidence that a high level of education confers protection against neurocognitive
aging and decline and is a type of cognitive reserve."  [
Clin Neurosci. 2013(1) 109–119]
What kind of mental activity helps ward
off cognitive decline or even Alzheimer’s
disease? An important new study in
Psychological Sciences suggests that only
certain kinds of activities may in the end
prove helpful. According to Denise Park "the
key is do something unfamiliar that takes
you out of your current “comfort zone” and
provides a broad array of social and mental
The Park et al. (2013) study involved 221 adults ages 60 to 90 years who were randomly
assigned to participate in several different kinds of activity for an average of 16 hours per
week over a 3-month period.  Some participants were assigned to groups that were given
the task of learning a new skill (digital photography, quilting, or both). These learning
tasks were expected to require active engagement by the participants, tapping their
working memory, long-term memory and various other high-level cognitive processes.

Denise C. Park, Lodi-Smith, J. et al.
(2014) The impact of sustained
engagement on cognitive function
in older adults: The synapse
project. Psychological Sciences, 25:
the brain is far more plastic than was believed 20 years ago
taking classes is one way to avoid cognitive decline in old age
Greek temple in Magna Grecia (Sicily)
Tests were administered before and after participants had taken part in their assigned
3-month-long activities. The participants who had been assigned to learn new skills
showed improvements in memory compared to those who engaged in social activities or
undemanding mental activities at home.
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Do we have iron clad evidence to support these conclusions? Not yet. The authors
acknowledge a general problem that exists with the kinds of large-scale epidemiological
studies they based their conclusions on, namely that the data under consideration "are
primarily correlational, and it is not entirely clear if maintaining an active mind and lifestyle
offers protection against cognitive aging, or whether those who are protected tend to
maintain an active lifestyle."
Other participants were randomly assigned to groups that were to devote the same
amount of time to already familiar activities at home (listening to classical music, doing
word puzzles). The members of one final group were asked to participate in social
activities outside the home that were likely fun but not cognitively demanding (field trips,
contract bridge is a stimulating activity that promotes successful aging
Grandma Moses, the self-taught American painter

Maintaining cognitive function in later life

to learn more about Grandma
Moses, click her photo above