We’ve all heard the “Those who can’t do, teach,” maxim. But based on the findings of a new University of Florida study, perhaps the better phrase would be “Those who can’t remember, should teach.”
When it comes to being able to recall the details of new information, older adults may benefit from telling a friend or family member about their recently-discovered revelations, according to lead investigator, Yvonne Rogalski, an assistant professor in the department of speech-language pathology and audiology at Ithaca College. Using their own words to communicate recently learned material can help elders’ brain encode the information on a deeper level.
“Older adults can rely on things they’ve learned in the past and they can build on that vast wealth of semantic information that they’ve collected over the years,” Rogalski says in a statement from the University of Florida. But problems arise when elders are exposed to novel information that they can’t use their previous experiences to jog their memories.
Comparing different recall techniques
Rogalski and her team split 44 adults in their 60s and early 70s into two groups, each using a different technique to remember a written passage about unusual animals that was specifically chosen to expose the readers to information they’d never heard before, thus ensuring they couldn’t rely on past memories about the subject matter.
One group used a recall technique called “Read Attentively, Summarize and Review (RASR),” which involved reading the whole passage out loud, then going back to the beginning, reading each individual paragraph out loud once, summarizing the paragraph from memory using their own words, then reading the paragraph out loud again before moving on to the next paragraph.
The second group employed the “Read and Reread Attentively” technique, which involved reading the whole passage aloud once, then re-reading each individual paragraph aloud three times.
The recall of the participants was right after they completed the exercise, and then again 24 hours later. In both instances, it was the elders who’d employed the RASR method of remembering the information that were able to recall more details. Study authors say that summarizing the new material in their own personal vernacular helped the adults remember more because it forced their brains to make connections between the information that made sense to them.
“By reading the information and then putting it into your own words you have to do quite a bit of processing of not only the information, but also the relationships among bits of information,” says co-author of the study, Lori Altmann, associate professor in the University of Florida Department of speech, language and hearing sciences.
3 ways to defend against memory decline
Memory slips seem to become increasingly frequent as the years pass by, leading to confusion and anxiety over the possibility that an elder is developing Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia.
The potential causes of cognitive impairment are numerous and can be reversible (e.g. a urinary tract infection) or irreversible (e.g. Alzheimer’s). But experts agree that there are three key ways to keep our minds as sharp as possible, regardless of age:
Maintain physical fitness: A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand-in-hand. By helping fend off heart disease and diabetes, and increasing the blood flow to the brain, engaging in consistent physical activity can lead to enhanced mental capacity in both cognitively healthy individuals, as well as those with mild dementia. Regular exercise can even help people with Alzheimer’s better perform everyday tasks.
Exercise the brain: The benefits of specially-designed brain-training programs are debatable, but there are a few simple ways to construct your cognitive reserve—the mental buffer against the effects of dementia. Try these 8 Easy Ways to Build Your Cognitive Reserve.
Stay social: The support of strong social connections is essential for fending off loneliness and depression, a condition that is common among the elderly and has been associated with an increased risk for dementia in older adults. Learn more about the dementia-depression link.
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By Anne-Marie Botek, AgingCare.com Editor