Let me begin by asserting a very important premise for seniors: learning is a continuous and lifelong process. No one is too old to learn!
There was a time, not long ago, that doctors didn’t believe this. They wrongly asserted that the brain stopped making new neural connections – that memory began to get irreversibly worse when the body stopped developing in its early 20s. Doctors thought that, like any other part of the body, neurons weakened as people aged and that the loss of brain function, due to neural breakdown, was a normal, unavoidable part of aging.
In the past several years, however, new and valuable information regarding aging and brain studies has emerged. This research confirms that the early beliefs related to neural connections were wrong. It has now been determined that anyone can make new neurons, starting in his or her 20s and continuing well into old age. It was reported in EMed Expert that seniors can rewire their brains with new parts as the older parts wear out.
Recognizing that brainpower can be enhanced is critical to the well-being of seniors. Just as physical activity keeps your body strong, mental activity keeps your mind sharp and agile. The more we think, the better our brains function. Without something to keep us mentally charged, our brains will atrophy, leading to a decline in our cognitive abilities. The message is clear: we must continually stimulate our brains.
One way to effectively do this is by being a lifelong learner. Lifelong learners can pursue learning on their own or by joining a learning group. Senior Living states “Lifelong Learning is the process of keeping your mind and body engaged – at any age – by actively pursuing knowledge and experience.” According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost half of the adult population in the United States is enrolled in some form of lifelong learning.
Senior Living reported that choosing lifelong learning experiences that capture your interest not only stimulates your brain but has lots of other positive benefits. It keeps your mind sharp, improves your memory, increases your self-confidence, and gives you a feeling of accomplishment and a new interest in life.
Since social interactions are also critical for brain stimulation, when participating in a group learning experience an added bonus occurs. Harvard researchers found that seniors over 65 years of age who had at least five social ties, such as learning groups, were less likely to suffer cognitive decline than those with no social ties.
If you haven’t pursued a learning experience for a while, now is the time to find a subject that you would like to investigate. Finding learning opportunities is not difficult. The Baltimore County Department of Aging has many resources that can guide you to the many prospects available for seniors. Investigate what the Senior Centers offer, the travel opportunities listed in Senior Digest, the special programs offered by the Baltimore County libraries, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for non-credit or credit courses at colleges in the area.
Everyone can learn. No matter what your age, being a Lifelong Learner can rejuvenate your mind and bring new meaning to your life.