How to retain new information & improve memory

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.

Older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory.

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

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information–visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall.

Different types of memory techniques were compared in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by:

  • Writing it out
  • Drawing it
  • or Listing physical attributes related to each item.

Later on after performing each task, memory 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.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes.

In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia.

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


Source: Matthew Grant – University of Waterloo
Publisher: Organized by

Original Research: Abstract for “Drawing as an Encoding Tool: Memorial Benefits in Younger and Older Adults” by Melissa E. Meade, Jeffrey D. Wammes & Myra A. Fernandes in Experimental Aging and Research. Published October 9 2018.


3 comments on “How to retain new information & improve memory

  1. I’m not surprised at these findings. Early in my career as an elementary and secondary art teacher, I realized that art was a perfect subject for many reasons. One of the most significant is that it’s accessible for students whose primary learning mode is visual, kinasthetic, or auditory. In other words, every child is capable of learning art to their best ability. And most love it of course.
    I also trained to teach a specific art program to adults suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and assisted for more than 9 years at the residence where my mother lived. The staff was often amazed by the level of skill and attention from people, some of whom had never done any art. But not everyone could be enticed to participate. For those with advanced Alzheimer’s, overcoming inertia was a daunting problem.
    Though I think it’s great to offer art and craft opportunities to all Alzheimer’s victims, encouraging them to participate is probably best done with those in early to mid stages.
    I wrote an article on my blog about the art journey of one very special individual who lived at the Alzheimer’s residence. If you’re interested:

    Thank you for a terrific article. A final word: make art, everyone. Make art.


  2. BTW, the art program is called Memories in the Making and was developed to help Alzheimer’s sufferers access memories through art experiences. My mom participated for many years. She’d never done art when she was healthy, and began her first M in M with an incapacitated right arm (dislocated her shoulder during a fall) and had to paint with her left hand. She was right handed of course. I noticed that she was calmer when she painted as well as intently focused. This was important because otherwise mom was often rather vacant. Many of her works were selected for the annual Alzheimer’s Association Art Exhibit, and one of her paintings was chosen for note cards.


    • Shari,
      I have now read your article. It is beautiful. I love your description of the children’s painted-and getting the essence right. I am glad that even as he struggled, Ben continued to paint until the end.

      What a wonderful experience for you mom, and for you. I am excited to go and read your article. I am approving both theses comments so others can see your link now.

      Liked by 1 person

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