The impact of learning multiple real-world skills on cognitive abilities and functional independence in healthy older adults

Shirley Leanos, Esra Kürüm, Carla M. Strickland-Hughes, Annie S. Ditta, Gianhu Nguyen, Miranda Felix, Hara Yum, George W. Rebok, Rachel Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective: The natural learning experience from infancy to emerging adulthood, when considerable cognitive and functional growth is observed, mandates learning multiple real-world skills simultaneously. The present studies investigated whether learning multiple real-world skills simultaneously is possible in older adults and also whether it improves both their cognitive abilities (working memory, episodic memory, and cognitive control) and functional independence. Method: Over two studies (15 and 27 participants), older adults learned at least three new skills (e.g., Spanish, drawing, music composition) simultaneously for 3 months. Participants completed cognitive and functional assessments before, during, and after the intervention in both studies. Participants were recruited sequentially for an intervention or no-contact control group in Study 1, and Study 2 included only an intervention group, who also completed assessments 4-6 weeks prior to the start of the intervention (i.e., they served as their own control group). Results: Results from both studies show that simultaneously learning multiple skills is feasible and potentially beneficial for healthy older adults. Learning multiple skills simultaneously increased cognitive abilities in older adults by midpoint of the intervention, to levels similar to performance in a separate sample of middle-aged adults, 30 years younger. Discussion: Our findings demonstrate the feasibility and potential of conducting a real-world skill-learning intervention involving learning three novel skills with older adults. Our multiskill intervention may provide broad cognitive gains, akin to the benefits experienced earlier in the life span.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1155-1169
Number of pages15
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2 2020


  • Adaptation
  • Cognitive intervention
  • Engagement
  • Skill learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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