Memory retention: Drawing is better for the brain than writing

Memory retention: Drawing is better for the brain than writing
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According to the University of Waterloo, Canada, older adults who take up drawing could enhance their level of memory retention.

As people grow older it is well known that memory retention weakens, however researchers have found that even if individuals aren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualisation exercises or passively looking at images.

Increasing the success of memory retention

Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo explained the study further: “We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques.”

“We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.”

During the study, participants, both young people and older adults, were asked to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and were then tested on their recall. The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques as it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information, visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

According to Myra Fernandes a psychology professor in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo: “Drawing improves memory across a variety of tasks and populations, and the simplicity of the strategy means that it can be used in many settings.”

The vast techniques of memory retention

In a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words. Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item.

After the performance of each task, the memory of the participants 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.

Due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes, retention of new information typically declines as people age. In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal ageing, and in dementia.

Meade concludes: “We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function.”

“Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease.”

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