The adage “use it or lose it” has led many aging adults to work on crossword puzzles, participate in web activities for memory improvement and do mental exercises to challenge cognition. A new study suggests that maybe all they really need to do to cement new learning is to sit and close their eyes for a few minutes. Psychological scientist Michaela Dewar, Ph.D., and her colleagues show that memory can be boosted by taking a brief wakeful rest after learning something verbally new. “Our findings support the view that the formation of new memories is not completed within seconds,” says Dewar.
“Indeed, our work demonstrates that activities that we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information really affect how well we remember this information after a week.” Investigators performed two separate experiments on 33 normally aging adults between the ages of 61 and 87. Participants were told two short stories and told to remember as many details as possible. Immediately afterward, they were asked to describe what happened in the story. Then they were given a 10-minute delay that consisted either of wakeful resting or playing a spot-the-difference game on the computer. During the wakeful resting portion, participants were asked to just rest quietly with their eyes closed in a darkened room for 10 minutes while the experimenter left to “prepare for the next test.”
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