Learning new skills, such as a practicing a new language or playing an instrument, has been shown to have many different kinds of benefits for older adults. However, many researchers focus only on short-term benefits of learning these new skills and fail to examine benefits over longer periods of time. One recent study looked to address this gap in research by examining how a multi-skill learning intervention impacted the cognitive skills of older adults, even up to one-year post-intervention.
In order to assess how learning new skills impacts older adults over time, these researchers conducted two studies, both involving 12-to-15-week classes in which older adults learned new skills such as painting, music composition, and Spanish. Participants also took part in lectures and discussions about topics such as motivation, barriers to learning, and successful aging. A total of 33 older adults aged 55 and better participated across the two studies. Participants were assessed on a variety of cognitive skills before the classes, during the classes, immediately after the classes, and three, six, and 12 months later. Researchers found that participants improved on multiple cognitive outcomes, including cognitive control and working memory. These improvements were sustained even one year after the new skill-learning took place.
Although there was a relatively small sample size across these two studies, this research adds to existing evidence showing that picking up a new skill may have significant cognitive benefits for older adults. Not only that, but this research also demonstrated that learning new skills had benefits even up to one year later. Future research should continue to look at benefits of learning over longer periods of time in order to further highlight the importance of learning across the lifespan.
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Ferguson, L., Sain, D., Kürüm, E., Strickland-Hughes, C.M., Rebok, G.W., & Wu, R. (2023). One-year cognitive outcomes from a multiple real-world skill learning intervention with older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1080/13607863.2023.2197847