Older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory, according to a new study from the University of Waterloo. Researchers found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than rewriting notes, visualization exercises, or passively looking at images.
As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall. The researchers 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. 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. 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, visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging and in dementia.
Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo, conducted this study with Myra Fernandes, a psychology professor in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo, and recent UW PhD graduate Jeffrey Wammes. The study, “Drawing as an encoding tool: Memorial benefits in younger and older adults,” appears in Experimental Aging and Research. It is available online at www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0361073X.2018.1521432?journalCode=uear20.