They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Well I don’t know much about those old dogs, but I can assure you vibrant savvy seniors have no trouble learning new things! In fact, if you’re still a bit wet behind the ears they’ll likely teach you a thing or two while they’re at it. And if you happen to be one of those seniors I’m betting you can confirm that for me.
Researchers have long debated how big of an impact keeping your brain busy, challenged and active as you age can have on your ability to stay clear headed and on-the-go well into your golden years. But the evidence has continued to grow that exercising your brain may be just as important as exercising your body when it comes to fighting aging.
Now two new studies have revealed some strategies that could help keep seniors behind the wheel and prevent cognitive impairment as they age.
Researchers at Penn State studied the effect that three different brain training programs had on older adult’s ability to keep driving. During the 10 year study adult drivers 65 or older were placed into one of four groups: reasoning, memory, divided-attention or no training.
Brain training kept seniors on the road
People in the reasoning group completed exercises on paper such as brain teasers, and they were also taught some problem solving strategies. The memory group worked on categorizing lists of words on paper that apply to daily life such as a list of errands to run or things to pick up at the grocery store. And the divided-attention group used a computer program that would briefly display objects on the screen and then quiz them on what they had seen, becoming progressively harder over time.
Over the next 10 years randomly selected volunteers were given booster training and everyone was evaluated seven times. After the study was over the folks in the reasoning and the divided-attention groups were between 40 and 55 percent more likely to still be tooling around town behind the wheel than those who didn’t receive the training.
And, incredibly, the volunteers who had received booster training were 70 percent more likely to be driving at the end of the 10 years, according to the study published in the journal The Gerontologist.1
Slash your risk of cognitive decline up to 30%
Mayo clinic researchers had some exciting successes with brain training recently as well. They found that those seniors who continue to challenge their brains are less likely to develop mild cognitive impairments.
According to the study published in JAMA Neurology seniors over the age of 70 can naturally stay sharp as a tack simply by challenging their brains.
Seniors who regularly participate in mentally stimulating tasks—ranging from playing games to crafting—two to three times a week, are significantly less likely to suffer from mild cognitive impairment than older adults who only participate in them two to three times a month.2
When the researchers crunched all the numbers they found the risk for mild cognitive impairment plunged…
- 30 percent in folks who regularly used a computer,
- 28 percent in volunteers who were into crafting
- 23 percent in participants who were social butterflies
- 22 percent in seniors who played games
More research is being done, and no doubt the experts will continue to argue over exactly what kind of impact brain training has on our aging brains. But there’s plenty of evidence already that regularly giving your brain a workout can help you stay active and clear headed far into your golden years.
To start exercising your own brain you can try taking up a new hobby like knitting or photography, sign up for a cooking class, join a square dancing group or develop a passion for crossword puzzles or Sudoku. Just pick out something that’s mentally stimulating, that you enjoy doing and that you can participate in at least two to three times a week.
1. “The Impact of Three Cognitive Training Programs on Driving Cessation Across 10 Years: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Gerontologist, 10 October 2016, gnw143
2. “Association Between Mentally Stimulating Activities in Late Life and the Outcome of Incident Mild Cognitive Impairment, With an Analysis of the APOE ε4 Genotype,” JAMA Neurol. Published online January 30, 2017
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