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New research points to the amazing fertility of the older mind

A healthy brain. This is the dream, right?

You would love to live out your golden years as sharp as a tack. The thought of eventually losing your memory and ability to function is frightening. Maybe you watched your parents or grandparents becoming more confused as they aged. Forgetting important details. No longer able to care for themselves.

Are you destined to forget your loved ones? To stare blankly at the faces that once meant the world to you. No longer the person you once were.

The statistics are not comforting -- 1 in 9 Americans over the age of 65 will have Alzheimer’s disease 1, while 8% of Americans will have some form of dementia 2. Despite these harrowing facts, research is saying you can have an impact on your long-term brain health. Healthy longevity means “remaining healthy, active, sharp and happy throughout an extensive lifespan.”

It can be done. Growing old does not have to mean growing senile.

One of the biggest secrets to continued brain health and healthy longevity is to be a lifelong learner. You don’t have to read dusty textbooks and listen to dull lectures to keep learning.

The future of adult learning is exciting! The ways you can learn are growing so quickly. You can learn at home or no matter where you are!

Hold onto that spark of curiosity and love for learning and safeguard your brain from deteriorating. You can spend your golden years embracing a wonderful future of new learning opportunities. And have fun too by learning with your family and friends.

What Happens to Your Brain When You Learn Something New

Studies have shown that adults who continually learn new skills are less likely to develop the early signs of dementia 3. Not only is your brain protected by lifelong learning but your rate of depression and anxiety decreases when you remain actively engaged in learning 4.

Improve Brain Function

Learning is not only for the young. A rich environment of mental stimulation leads to an increase in cognitive function as you grow older 4. Doesn’t that sound ideal?

It is common for there to be a loss of connective synapses (how your brain passes messages along) in the frontal lobe of the brain as you age 5. But the hippocampus (where we make new memories) continues to build new neurons throughout your whole life. That’s right, your brain is still growing!

Reduce Stress

Learning new skills can help you stay independent longer and reduce stress. When you know how to order your groceries and pay your bills online you aren’t worrying what you will do when you can’t go out when the weather is bad.

Continual worry and stress will damage your brain. Researchers at UC Berkeley have shown that chronic levels of stress can lead to a decrease in your ability to learn as well as your memory 6.

Instead of worrying about what you will do, take action. Learn a new skill that will help you cope as you age. Doing this will relax your stress levels and lead to an improved chance of healthy longevity.

Keep Yourself Connected

Learning keeps you connected with those around you. Your social life has a direct impact on the length of your life. Studies show that when you are more active socially you outlive those who are isolated 7.

The benefits of learning become more important as you age, when it is harder to go out and you are dealing with the loss of loved ones. When you are learning something new it can give you a purpose. A reason to get out of bed. A place to connect with old and new friends.

Humans are creatures of connection. You need to be connected to those around you. This concept of connection reaches across the generations. When you are learning how to use your iPad it might be so you can chat with your granddaughter across the country. A language class will introduce you to those 20 years younger or even older than you, forming relationships and having new conversations. These actions keep our brain cells alive and help us to grow new ones.

What Adult Learning Will Look Like in the Future

Learning experts suggest that the future for adult learners will involve low-cost classes that use technology to respond to your actions, while you learn from world-class human teachers 8. Courses offered online will be the way you can learn. From the comfort of your home you can have intellectual discussions with students and teachers from all over the world.

There are over 400+ existing programs for adult learning in North America 9. E-learning (learning electronically) is one of the fastest growing educational markets for all ages. The most popular ways of learning include programs like Duolingo. A language teaching app that you can use on a iPad, smart phone or computer. Instead of a dry lecture and boring memorization you are given fun, small clips of language that you engage with and can play each day. You can play these electronic games with your grandkids and both learn together!

Online courses are also becoming popular. Through websites like Coursera you can take hundreds of free classes on topics such as science, personal development or even art. You can take a class on the history of the Beetles by a professor from the University of Rochester.

Another source of free online learning are videos on Youtube and Ted Talks. You go to the websites and you can watch free short videos on any topic you can think of.

What You Need to Learn for Healthy Longevity

The world of learning has changed significantly over the last 30 years with the dawn of the internet. A study by the Pew Research Center announced that half of American adults over age 65 are online on a daily basis and use email, social media and search engines 10.

Learning how to use technology can be vital to keeping you connected and increasing your brain health as you age. For someone who is not comfortable with computers, an iPad or tablet can be the perfect gift to learn on. The large size makes it easier to handle than a smartphone. The quick loading and simple touch screen can have anybody engaging virtually in minutes, whether that means playing a game of checkers or visiting an art museum online that you’ve always wanted to see.

The possibilities of what you can learn online are endless, keeping your brain active while you have fun.

Get Up and Move

Staying active is one of the best ways to slow down or even reverse mental decline. A village in Bapan, China has recently been coined the “longevity village” due to the high number of its population who live to over a 100 years old 11. The villagers have three common characteristics: they age slowly, work hard tending their own gardens and farms, sometimes into their 90s and 100s, and have an absence of dementia.

Dr. John Day, the head researcher of this report, states that one of the secrets to their healthy longevity is that almost every waking moment of their lives is spent in motion. Not only did they spend time working, but they also spent time adding play into many of their daily activities. Singing in the fields. Laughing and smiling.

Although exercise has commonly been known to improve brain health, a research study by Dr Kathrin Rehfeld showed that dancing has the biggest impact on reversing aging 12.

The participants in the research study were an average age of 68. Those that joined in an 18-month weekly dance class instead of cycling or walking showed both an increase in the memory function of the brain as well as a profound difference in balance. Dr Rehfeld concludes that “dancing is a powerful tool to set new challenges for body and mind, especially in older age.”

The future of adult learning is ever-changing and has limitless options available to you. Clear a spot in your living room, invite a few friends over and together learn how to do the Chicken Dance by watching a video on Youtube. Your brain and laughing muscles will thank you.



About the Author(s)

Crystal Jo is a Registered Nurse who is passionate about helping older adults live happy, healthy lives at home. As a freelance writer, she enjoys educating and inspiring seniors, and those who love them, to choose a healthy life.

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