Memory Maximizers: Boosting Brain Recall; Social Isolation’s Effect on Memory & Cognition

Study: Brain Must Do Heavy Lifting to Boost Recall

Crossword puzzles and games offer modest mental stimulation, but you must put your brain cells through more vigorous workouts if you really want to experience a memory boost. That’s the take-home message of a study, published in November 2013 in the journal Psychological Science, in which groups of older adults were assigned various lifestyle changes to see which types of activities were most likely to improve memory. Some study participants were asked to spend 15 hours each week learning mentally challenging new skills, such as quilting or digital photography, which make use of working memory, long-term memory and other types of high-level cognition. Others spent the same amount of time engaging in activities that required less mental effort, such as solving word puzzles, playing games, or visiting museums. A third group continued their normal lifestyles. After three months, study participants took tests that measured their memory performance. The participants who had engaged in activities that offered the continuous and prolonged mental challenge of learning new skills showed significant improvements in memory. However, the memory performance of the other groups remained essentially unchanged. “It seems it is not enough just to get out and do some-thing—it is important to get out and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging, and that provides broad stimulation mentally and socially,” the lead researcher said. “When you are inside your comfort zone you may be outside of the enhancement zone.”

Avoid Social Isolation for Better Memory & Cognition

Enjoying social activities with friends and loved ones, and reaching out to form new relationships, may be important ways to keep your brain functioning at its peak, recent research suggests. Scientists assessed data from a group of more than 6,000 old-er participants in a British study of aging, looking for indications of social isolation and loneliness, and recording measures of cognitive function, such as verbal fluency, immediate recall, and delayed recall. Four years later they obtained follow-up measures of the participants’ cognitive function. They found that participants who had scored the highest in loneliness and social isolation declined most in cognitive function and memory abilities, suggesting that overcoming social isolation may be a strategy for protecting memory.

If you’d like to enlarge your social world, these suggestions may be helpful:

  • Volunteer to help out in your community: Joining a group effort to benefit others can help you make new friends while increasing your sense of belonging and boosting feelings of self-worth
  • Sign up for courses: Learning new skills in group settings provides the perfect environment for forming new friendships while challenging the brain
  • Participate in sports or recreational programs: They offer the opportunity to learn new physical skills, get fit, and make friends at the same time
  • Get to know your neighbors: Neighbors share a common interest in their community that represents an immediate bond, and are often able to help one another in meaningful ways
  • Accept invitations: Even if you don’t feel like socializing, an invitation offers an opportunity to make new friends and enjoy a mentally stimulating experience
  • Reach out: Ask an acquaintance to lunch, or call an old friend on the telephone for a catch-up conversation.

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