Worried About Dementia?

Go Back to School and Make Your Brain Young Again

Posted Aug 01, 2019

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

Grab your books, zip up your backpack, and head back to the classroom if you want to avoid dementia and other types of cognitive decline as you age.  Taking at least three classes at a time, thus learning multiple things at once, can turn older adults' cognitive clock back by as much to 30 years, according to research from the University of California at Riverside published in The Journal of Gerontology.

This back-to-school approach, researchers say, helps adults use motivation as fuel, rely on encouraging mentors for guidance, and thrive in an environment where the bar is set high. 

The details:

• Adults 58 to 86 years old took three to five classes for three months— Spanish, learning to use an iPad, photography, drawing/painting, and music composition. This load, which amounts to about 15 hours of class time per week, is similar to a typical undergrad’s course schedule.

• Before, during, and after taking the courses, participants were assessed to gauge working memory by, for example, remembering a phone number for a few minutes and being able to easily switch between tasks.

• After just six weeks, 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 take-home message is that older adults can learn multiple new skills at the same time, and doing so may improve their cognitive functioning,” said one of the study’s authors, Rachel Wu, assistant professor of psychology at UCR and lab director of CALLA Lab. “The studies provide evidence that intense learning experiences akin to those faced by younger populations are possible in older populations,  and may facilitate gains in cognitive abilities.”

References

Shirley Leanos, Esra Kürüm, Carla M Strickland-Hughes, Annie S Ditta, Gianhu Nguyen, Miranda Felix, Hara Yum, George W Rebok, Rachel Wu, The Impact of Learning Multiple Real-World Skills on Cognitive Abilities and Functional Independence in Healthy Older Adults, The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, , gbz084, https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbz084