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Study Finds Acting Keeps the Mind Sharp

A husband-and-wife research team at Elmhurst College in Chicago has found that acting keeps the human brain active, alert, and healthy. The Chicago Tribune reports today Helga and Tony Noice's work teaching acting to Chicago seniors has yielded positive results. Helga is a cognitive psychologist with the college; Tony is an actor, director, and theatre professor.

According to the Noices, participants in the acting classes bettered their cognitive ability showing significant gains in problem-solving and long-term comprehension after taking the eight-week program. "Research has shown that an older brain is generally less active and, as a result, is associated with poor memory," said Dr. Noice. "Therefore, the purpose in using theatrical activities is to increase the brain's activation."

The course taught to seniors living in government-funded retirement homes begins with simple tasks, such as defining acting, and works up to residents practicing dialogue and performing entire scenes. The study is funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

"We thought about what gives the best bang for the buck, and acting is this activity," Tony Noice told the Tribune. "With acting, there is no way to just let the material wash over you. You must be actively engaged at the present moment. Acting is physiological, cognitive, and emotional."

"You use it or you lose it," he continued. "If we can improve seniors' ability to remember everyday things, that's fine, but a major goal is to prevent any form of dementia. We are living longer, so the older we get, the greater the chance we can develop dementia."

In the study, seniors are placed in acting, singing, or control group programs. The Noices then assess their cognitive functioning before and after the classes. So far, their research has shown that seniors who took the acting course showed significant improvement. Positive thinkers also fared better; previous studies have shown a person's belief system affects whether they're engaged in the material.

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