Want to Improve Your Memory? Start Taking Photos

Strandfotograaf / Beach Photographer via  Flickr Creative Commons.
Strandfotograaf / Beach Photographer via Flickr Creative Commons.

For years, advice for maintaining and even improving cognitive function in older adults has been vague and anecdotal, without supporting research. Suggestions like, “Take supplements!” and “Do more word or Sudoku puzzles!” are commonplace, but it’s unclear what benefits, if any, activities like this truly provide. According to a recent study conducted by University of Texas Dallas researcher Denise Park, it’s far more beneficial to put down the crossword puzzles and pick up a digital camera.

Park’s study divided adults with an average age of 72 into several groups. Over the course of 14 weeks, some did participated in social activities, some completed puzzle books and listened to classical music, and some took digital photography or quilting courses (or both). The more passive activities, like socializing and solving puzzles, provided no real gains in memory or cognitive function.

On the other hand, the study participants who learned digital photography left the course with increased episodic memory, which is the brain’s ability to recall and state autobiographical events. They also saw an improvement in visuospatial memory, which is the ability to understand where you and the objects around you exist in space. This incredibly essential cognitive function is key to a slew of tasks from navigating through traffic to understanding spatial relationships and beyond.

The truth is, the benefits Park’s study found are likely just the beginning. Older adults have previously been shown to benefit immensely from learning alongside people of all ages, an intergenerational experience creativeLIVE offers every day. And the gains in self-esteem are proven for anyone who engages in more creative activities. This increased esteem is likely a huge asset to older adults, who are frequently forced to combat stigmas around age and capability.

And fortunately, digital photography is a profoundly diverse science and art. From understanding the nitty-gritty aspects of operating a camera to exploring the science of light and its impact on photos to learning to capture family portraits or memorable events, there’s a massive range of opportunities for older adults to dive in, create, and enhance their cognitive function, all at once.

Sources: Psychological Science, Ageing Horizons

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Lauren Hoffman lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. By day, she's a freelance writer and editor; by night, she's at work completing a book-length non-fiction project, Up High Down Low.