Back to School—At Any Age!

Brain science experts tell us that along with exercise and good nutrition, education is one of the things that keeps our brains healthier. University of Barcelona brain scientists recently used MRI scans to show that certain important areas of the brain are larger in people who had stayed in school longer. Said Prof. David Bartres-Faz, “This analysis suggested the group of people with more years of education exhibited greater cortical thickness in the frontal lobe, particularly in the prefrontal areas of the anterior cingulate cortex and the orbital cortex.”

For those whose own education didn’t include a course in neurobiology, let’s translate that: brain exercise is important. Use it or lose it! Learning builds important connections in the brain that can help us maintain a healthier memory in our later years. Even if we have changes in the brain that are associated with Alzheimer’s disease, regular brain exercise over the course of years can build connections in the brain that allow us to compensate.

Learning benefits the brain in other ways, as well. Spending time with others is beneficial, and taking a class is a good social opportunity—including valuable intergenerational connection. Learning adds a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives, boosting our self-esteem and fighting depression. Novelty—learning something new—is especially good for the brain.

It’s never too late to learn!

Though many seniors today are literally going back to school, earning college degrees even into their 90s, learning need not be in a formal setting to offer benefits. Even if you collected a Ph.D. earlier in life, it’s no good to just sit back and coast! There are educational opportunities for people of every age and ability, including appropriate activities for people with memory loss and other disabilities. So during “Back to School” season 2019, check out these senior learning resources in your community:

Universities, colleges and community colleges not only offer degree-track courses, but also continuing education classes. Many feature special offerings designed for older adults, on a wide variety of subjects.

Distance (online) learning also provides brain health benefits, though it doesn’t have the social aspect of classroom study. Some courses allow you to complete lessons at your own pace; others have scheduled lectures and technology that allows you to communicate and connect with instructor and classmates.

Senior centers and parks and recreation departments offer traditional lecture-and-discussion classes, as well as hands-on courses such as cooking, languages, photography and crafts.

If you live in a senior living community, you’ll find a wide array of classes, presentations and other programs to let you learn something new, pick up a new skill, and interact with others to find out what they have to teach you. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test!

Don’t overlook your public library. A library card is free, and books are only the beginning! Libraries today offer classes and presentations on a wide variety of subjects—from genealogy research to computer education to current events.

Many cultural institutions such as museums and symphonies have outreach and educational programs. Some are specially designed for older adults, and some serve people with disabilities, such as vision loss or Alzheimer’s disease.

What about volunteer training? There are volunteer opportunities for people of every ability, and special training can make you even more of an asset to the organization lucky enough to have your skills and time.

If organized education just isn’t your thing, create your own learning program. Research a topic online—maybe your family history, or music, or information about a place you love. Join a group of people with similar interests, in person or online. Whatever your interests, make it your goal to learn something new every day.

Source: IlluminAge

 The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about a brain health program that is right for you.