Flexible Aging: a multidisciplinary approach to learning to preserve

Saskia Esmee Nijmeijer

    Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)

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    Cognitive flexibility is an important cognitive process that deteriorates with aging. The goal of this dissertation is to better understand whether speaking multiple languages can affect cognitive flexibility in older adults and whether this can serve as a unique training intervention to counteract or slow down cognitive aging effects.

    Studies in this dissertation showed that multilingual experiences could potentially improve cognitive flexibility in older adults. However, multilingualism is complex and any effect of multilingualism on cognition is a complex interplay of several factors related to multilingualism. In addition, multilingualism is not unique in affecting cognitive flexibility. Other complex experiences, specifically playing a musical instrument, may produce similar results. Moreover, individuals with both multilingual experiences and musical experiences showed better cognitive performance than individuals with only one of these experiences. Thus, speaking multiple languages is perhaps best described as one of many experiences that can affect cognitive flexibility in which some experience is better than none and the more the better.

    These findings lead to several recommendations, the most important of which is that complex (life) experiences can have a positive effect on cognition and mental health in older adults and may play a role in slowing down cognitive aging effects. It does not seem to matter much which complex activity is undertaken. The key message seems to be to do something, rather than do nothing, to stimulate the brain in any way.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Groningen
    • van Tol, Marie-José, Supervisor
    • Keijzer, Merel, Supervisor
    Award date15-Feb-2023
    Place of Publication[Groningen]
    Print ISBNs978-90-833062-5-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2023

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