Although many like to settle down in their later years, a new study has revealed that this might not be the best choice - among older adults, those with a busy lifestyle tended to do better on tests of cognitive function than their less busy counterparts. The results are a part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study, a comprehensive study that aims to examine the age-related changes in cognition and brain function in older adults.
"We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information," said Sara Festini, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Texas at Dallas and lead author of the study.
"We were surprised at how little research there was on busyness, given that being too busy seems to be a fact of modern life for so many," added Denise Park, also of the University of Texas and director of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study.
The team examined 330 healthy men and women between the ages of 50 and 89 in the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. The researchers used surveys to obtain information regarding the participants' daily schedules and a series of neuropsychological tests to determine cognitive performance.
The results revealed that regardless of age and education, a busier lifestyle is associated with a higher degree of cognitive functioning, which includes increased processing speed of the brain, working memory, reasoning and vocabulary. Furthermore, the association is even stronger when specifically looking at episodic memory, the ability to remember specific places, events and the emotions that were felt within them.
Despite the promise of the present data, not enough is yet known to conclusively say that keeping busy directly improves cognition in older adults. For example, those with better cognitive functioning might be naturally inclined to live a busier lifestyle.
Nevertheless, the researchers are intrigued by the possibility and believe that the answer could lie in new learning - busy people likely have more learning opportunities due to increased exposure to new information and situations. In addition, research has shown that learning can stimulate cognition.
"Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function, although additional experimental work is needed to determine if manipulations of busyness have the same effect," Festini said.
The findings were published in the May 17 issue of the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.