Surprising discovery by Texas researchers: Quilting helps seniors improve memory

Surprising discovery by Texas researchers: Quilting helps seniors improve memory

You’ve probably seen the TV ads touting online puzzles as a way to improve brain function. But a growing body of research, like the study led by Dr. Denise Park and published recently in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience, beg to differ.

It isn’t that crossword puzzles and other brain exercises don’t help; it’s that their benefits pale in comparison to active learning.

Dr. Park and her research team compared the change in brain activity of 39 older adults, which were divided into three groups for a 14-week period. Each group performed their assigned activity 15 hours per week:

  • High challenge: learned progressively more demanding skills in photography, quilting or both.
  • Low challenge: group discussions and activities related to travel, cooking, and other leisure subjects.
  • Placebo: Low-demand passive tasks that included listening to music and watching classic movies.

More thinking power

At the end of the study, testing revealed that high-challenge participants had more activity in areas of the brain related to attention and semantic processing (the meaning of words). The group also showed less brain activity for easy tasks and more activity for difficult tasks. This is noteworthy because prior to the study, high-challenge participants used a lot of brainpower to perform both easy and difficult tasks. In comparison, the low challenge group did not show an ability to match brainpower to the ease or complexity of the task after the 14 weeks.

Quilting might be considered a passive experience by those who’ve never tried it. But this task requires measuring and calculating, great exercises for the brain. In addition to learning how to use a camera, the digital photography group also used Photoshop to edit photos. In some cases, participants had to learn to use a computer before learning the graphics program.

While brain puzzles provide limited benefits to short-term memory, demanding activities strengthen entire nerve networks in the brain.

The future of aging

In their conclusion, Dr. Park and her colleagues wrote, “Although there is much more to be learned, we are cautiously optimistic with respect to the possibility that age-related cognitive declines can be slowed or even partially restored if individuals are exposed to sustained, mentally challenging experiences.”

As our aging population continues to grow, senior living communities like Meth-Wick are committed to helping older adults live their best life by offering a variety of programs to challenge body and mind, based on the most up-to-date research. Dr. Park’s conclusion that it is possible to have a healthy aging mind is good news indeed.