Improving geriatric care with leisure activities

Limestone College Social Work

One of the many considerations in caring for the elderly is addressing specific challenges related to the aging process, including a healthy aging mind. A recent study by the University of Texas at Dallas suggests that mentally challenging activities that involve an active learning component can have a positive impact on brain activity into late adulthood.

The study involved three groups of participants each assigned various levels of mentally challenging activities over a course of 14 weeks. For example, the high-challenge group was assigned tasks that involved active learning of increasingly difficult skills in digital photography and/or quilting. The low-challenge group engaged in socializing activities that relate to a particular topic of interest but do not involve any learning. And, the placebo group engaged in effortless activities like watching movies.

Testing of all participants before and after the 14-week period revealed that mentally demanding activities may have a positive impact on brain health. For example, the high-challenge group demonstrated better memory performance and increased ability to modulate brain activity.

Senior study author Denise Park says, “The present findings provide some of the first experimental evidence that mentally-challenging leisure activities can actually change brain function and that it is possible that such interventions can restore levels of brain activity to a more youth-like state.”

Current and aspiring social workers that work with the elderly population can apply these findings in many situations. For example, a nursing/retirement home geriatric social worker can help collaborate with the facility’s activities coordinator to advise on mentally stimulating activities for patients and residents.

At Limestone College, social work students who may be interested in gerontology can also take GER 200 – Issues and Perspectives in Aging. Similar to the study discussed above, this course attempts to identify factors that contribute to successful aging from biological, psychological, sociological and cultural perspectives.

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