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Acting can be a fun way to boost cognition in your golden years

August 22, 2014

There are many ways to stay mentally sharp as you age. Games like Lumosity were created to boost brain activity. Additionally, research from Rush University Medical Center found that staying socially active with friends and family can increase cognitive function in older adults. But one other beneficial activity that you may be surprised to learn is closely associated with healthy aging is acting, according to an Elmhurst College study published in the Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition journal. The art can help older adults with memory and focus.

The benefits of acting
Acting's benefits in older adults go far beyond having fun in front of a crowd. Reciting scripts and using emotion in your delivery requires a great deal of control and memorization skills. 

"Good acting involves retrieving the dialog and movements from long-term memory but using them spontaneously. That is a highly complex cognitive process," Helga Noice, a psychologist at Elmhurst College in Illinois, told The New York Times.

Keeping the brain stimulated in this way helps seniors strengthen an array of cognitive skills that go beyond memory, noted the Elmhurst study. Improvements can be seen in other areas, like comprehension and creativity. The research involved 122 older adults who participated in entry-level acting classes. Lessons were given twice a week for one month, for a total of eight classes for seniors with no previous acting experience. At the study's conclusion, immediate word recall improved by 19 percent, word fluency was 12 percent better and delayed story recall increased by 37 percent in participants. 

How you can get involved
You don't have to make it on the big screen to reap the benefits of acting. Like participants in the Elmhurst study showed, just taking a few classes or getting involved in a local play can help boost brain function. Some assisted living communities offer acting classes as one of their activities for residents. Check with your facility to see if you can take advantage of a class and start improving your cognitive skills that way. If acting isn't offered, you can consider starting a theater club with other residents.

There are also local theaters that have groups devoted to adults over the age of 50, like one in the U.K. called Curtain Up Players at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield, reported The Guardian. The older adults create a few of their own plays and perform them throughout the year as a fun way to stay social and mentally sharp. Go online to find community theaters that offer senior acting classes in your area.