“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Many people dust off this ancient cliché when they discuss seniors’ pursuit of continuous learning. But let’s retire this insulting saying; both observation and science refute it. Keeping an active mind through lifelong learning is not only possible, but also a key factor in healthy aging. The Global Council on Brain Health™(GCBH), a collaborative from AARP, assembled findings from specialty researchers from across the globe in 2017 to highlight and define the importance of lifelong learning. The variety of fields studied by the experts included gerontology, psychology, neurology, public health, neuropsychology, speech language pathology and neuroscience.
When these experts came together, their research revealed that the brain is dynamic and constantly changing, and seniors can impact the way their brains age over time. You can begin to make strides toward a healthier brain at any time, but generally speaking, the earlier the better.
Benefits of Lifelong Learning
1. Improve Cognition and the Overall Health of Your Brain
Learning new things and taking on new challenges can affect the makeup of your brain, creating new neurons, neural connections and nerve cells. With a healthier, more active mind, lifelong learners can develop and retain their attention span, language abilities and reasoning skills.
2. Reduce Risk of Dementia
In the process of developing new nerve cells and strengthening the connections between them, you can improve your memory and recall capabilities. Activities that challenge your brain may enhance your cognitive reserve — the mind’s ability to pivot and improvise alternate approaches to accomplish a task. Growing your brain’s cognitive reserve can reduce your risk of developing dementia or diminish the severity of the symptoms.
3. Boost Self-Confidence
As you meet goals in your pursuit of a new skill or hobby, you feel a sense of accomplishment. Even smaller endeavors such as finishing a novel or completing a puzzle provide a feeling of achievement. One example of the importance of lifelong learning is that over time, growing your skills and broadening your experience can enhance your self-image and sense of self.
Healthy Brain Activities to Try
According to the GCBH, cognitively stimulating activities are pursuits that activate the brain or challenge your thinking. Select activities you enjoy, so flexing your mental muscles doesn’t feel like a chore, and try to pick a variety of activities to engage different parts of your brain.
Take a Class
You could look for a continuing education class at a local college or at a community library if you enjoy a more formal educational experience. Museums often offer art courses for adults. If you prefer to fit more flexible lifelong learning into your busy schedule, websites like MasterClass and The Great Courses offer online classes in a wide assortment of subjects — you’re sure to find several that pique your interest.
Books — both fiction and nonfiction — introduce you to new ideas and worlds. You learn about history and dive deep into people’s lives. A 2017 meta-analysis by David Dodell-Feder shows reading fiction makes you a more empathetic person. You can choose to read on your own or make it more social by starting or joining a book club to discuss what you’ve read.
Volunteering can serve your emotional wellbeing as well as your brain health. If there’s a cause you’ve always felt passionately about, become more involved. You could mentor a young person and help them solve problems and strategize to meet their life goals.
Start a New Hobby
Diving into a new hobby can help you develop stronger cognitive function. Don’t limit yourself to what seems “age-appropriate.” If you want to learn a new language or take up a new instrument, go for it. Or you may decide to paint more, learn to take better photos, or trace your family history. Anything that challenges you and opens you up to new ways of thinking will help you reap the benefits of lifelong learning.
Enjoy the Experience of Lifelong Learning at Canterbury Court
At Canterbury Court, we make lifelong learning a priority within a wider wellness-focused lifestyle. To foster personal development, we connect older adults to volunteer opportunities, artistic expression, and educational classes and seminars. As seniors embrace the possibilities of independent living, we want them to feel happy, healthy and fulfilled. If you’d like to know more, reach out to us.