Lifelong Learning: Continuing Education Can Help Support Brain Health
Hitting the books is not just for children. Millions of adults every year explore their interests, hobbies, and passions though lifelong learning classes. Besides being fun, the cognitive process of gaining new knowledge and skills can support optimal brain health.
The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project1
Lifelong learning, in fact, has been shown to help promote mental sharpness well into the senior years. As the population ages, pharmacists are ideally situated to help their clients achieve brain health goals by recommending lifelong learning opportunities in the community.
Here are some concepts around lifelong learning that pharmacists can discuss over the counter.
- Improved episodic memory: Seniors who learned quilting or digital photography demonstrated more episodic memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities, according to a 2014 study funded by the National Institute on Aging.
- More the better: Adults who engage in more cognitively simulating activities weekly report a higher sense of mental sharpness, better health and overall well-being, according to research.
- Sooner the better: It’s never too late to start lifelong learning, but the sooner you begin the better as the cumulative effect of learning may help enhance one’s cognitive reserves.
- Join your classmates: Benefits of lifelong learning may be enhanced when done as a group activity rather than as a solo pursuit. In-person classes can provide more motivation to continue the activity, and interactions with fellow students may help boost a sense of wellbeing.
- Make it fun: Learn something that you find enjoyable, as this will help you stick with it even if the course becomes challenging.
- What are your interests? Space, art, Roman history, photography, French language, cooking, creative writing, technology, music, The Civil War? The possibilities are endless.
- Make yourself known: Select programs in which someone will notice if you’re not present. Better yet, find a class that is headed by an instructor who expects progress to a goal, whether it’s a presentation or simply the ability to answer questions. Knowing someone is counting on you provides motivation to stick with it.
- It’s not all in the head: Lifelong learning doesn’t have to only be about mental activities. Consider taking a dance class or tennis class. Learning new physical activities can improve the body and mind.
- Practice, practice, practice: Find classes that require purposeful learning or repeated practice, such as learning a new instrument or memorizing words in a foreign language. This will help maximize your cognitive activity.
Finding lifelong learning programs
Lifelong learning opportunities abound. First start by consulting your local government’s recreation department, as many cities offer a wide range of educational programs for residents at nominal costs. Also check your local community college, which often will provide a full slate of reasonably priced programs. In addition, many four-year universities and colleges allow community members to audit their classes for free. Museums also are a good source for lifelong learning, with some offering programs and guided tours at the museum and fieldtrips to local sights of interest.