A new study shows that rigorous learning is linked to better brain function in the elderly. The focus must be on investing time and effort in learning to gain cognitive advantage. Taking courses in any area of interest and doing any necessary work can help prevent memory loss as we age
Research on learning, brain function and aging
They say that the youth are wasted on the youth, and that may be especially true when it comes to appreciating learning. It is the rare child who enjoys going to school and really appreciates how different subjects can expand the mind. As we get older we certainly understand better, but often we are too busy with professional and family responsibilities to take the time to expand our knowledge in class. But according to new research, maybe that’s exactly what we should all be doing to keep our brains in tip-top shape as we age.
The study, conducted at the University of California at Riverside, found that intensive learning can keep cognitive skills at high levels well into our final years. These results are based on a study that included 42 men and women aged 60 to 80 years with no evidence of dementia or memory problems. You essentially entered college and took three challenging classes at the same time.
The courses required a commitment of 15 hours per week or more, regular homework, and lasted three months. Each of the subjects took a test before class began and again six weeks later, before the semester even ended, to measure their cognitive function. Up to that six week mark, their scores showed a huge improvement – in fact, they reached a level of skill that resembled that of a typical middle-aged person.
Pushing yourself can be key to boosting your brain
While this research was too small in size and scope to definitively say that intensive learning can help everyone spiritually, the results build on those of previous studies that show that participating in learning activities and developing new skills can improve memory and capacity improve cognitive skills.
The catch, however, is that current research suggests the importance of not just giving your brain a quick workout every day. Solving a crossword puzzle or listening to a few complicated pieces of classical music can stimulate your brain, which may be enough to keep the dementia away. But it’s probably not enough to really keep these synapses going and fully restore your mental abilities as you age. A more immersive experience that requires a lot of focus and hours of exertion should offer a whole lot more to help your brain. It could work just like exercising your body – a little always helps, but longer, more extensive workouts can do so much more.
What activities are best for your brain?
In the study, participants were given a selection of courses to learn Spanish, painting, drawing, music composition, photography, and learning to use an iPad. Many of the processes of learning in the arts and in language take place in the same areas of the brain, including the temporal and frontal lobes. Choosing such tracking can therefore add benefit to the brain and improve cognitive abilities.
Given that each volunteer was allowed to choose the classes that were most appealing to them, it is likely that another important factor is caring enough about the subject to want to invest the time and effort to create really new ones To learn things. So if learning a new language (and planning a trip to the country of origin) inspires you, go for it. If you have always been fascinated by the civil war, choose this as the focus of your studies. If you want to know everything there is to know about designing and building a website, take the initiative. It’s all up to you.
There is no need to enroll in a program to graduate unless it is your heart’s desire. You might be able to check out college classes for free, take at your local community college, discover online options you enjoy, or find great continuing education courses in your city.