Monday, July 18, 2016

Busy older people do better on cognitive tests

Public Release: 17-May-2016
Mind your busyness

Are you busy on an average day? Do you often have too many things to do to get them all done? Do you often have so many things to do that you go to bed later than your regular bedtime?

If you are over 50 and the answer to these questions is a weary yes, here is some good news: older adults with a busy daily lifestyle tend to do better on tests of cognitive function than their less busy peers, shows a new study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. The research is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, one of the most comprehensive studies of age-related changes in cognition and brain function in healthy adults currently underway in the USA.

"We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information," says Sara Festini, a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Vital Longevity of the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the study.


The results show that at any age, and regardless of education, a busier lifestyle is associated with superior processing speed of the brain, working memory, reasoning, and vocabulary. Especially strong is the association between busyness and better episodic memory, the ability to remember specific events in the past.

Festini et al. warn that the present data do not allow the conclusion that being busy directly improves cognition. It is also possible that people with better cognitive function seek out a busier lifestyle, or that busyness and cognition reinforce each other, resulting in reciprocal strengthening. But one mediating factor accounting for the relationship might be new learning, propose the researchers. Busy people are likely to have more opportunities to learn as they are exposed to more information and encounter a wider range of situations in daily life. In turn, learning is known to stimulate cognition: for example, a recent study from the Center for Vital Longevity found that a sustained effort in learning difficult new skills, such as digital photography or quilting, boosts episodic memory.

"Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function, although additional experimental work is needed to determine if manipulations of busyness have the same effect," says Festini.

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