Drawing Better Than Writing for Retaining Memory For Older Adults

Older adults could enhance their memory by taking up drawing, even if they are not good at it, say researchers.

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Drawing can help you better retain new information than re-writing notes or passively looking at images, a study has found.

Scientists at University of Waterloo in Canada have found that older adults could enhance their memory by taking up drawing, even if they are not good at it.

We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques. We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.
Melissa Meade, a PhD at Waterloo

The Study

For the study published in the journal Experimental Aging and Research, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall.

They believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information -- visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

Drawing improves memory across a variety of tasks and populations, and the simplicity of the strategy means that it can be used in many settings.
Myra Fernandes, a professor at Waterloo

As part of the studies, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens.

Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item.

Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes.

In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia.

We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function. Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease.
Melissa Meade

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Topics:  Writing   Drawing   Memory 

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