If you are thinking of taking up one new area of study, take up three instead! Recent research by scientists at the University of California – Riverside have found that learning several things at once enhances cognitive abilities in older people. Many previous studies had already shown that when seniors learn a new skill such as languages, art, how to use an iPad, their working memory and cognitive control (switching between tasks) is improved. What this new study brings to light is the fact the seniors are capable of learning many things at once and that doing so is a great way to keep their brains young and boost their quality of life.
It Never is Too Late to Learn
If you thought that learning a new language or technology was only for the young, think again. A University of Toronto study showed that older people do indeed have a great ability to learn. The only difference in your approach (compared to that of younger people) is that you’ll use different areas of the brain.
The study showed that older adults could perform as well as younger adults on visual, short-term memory tasks. Researchers used a test called PET to monitor blood flow in different areas of the brain. What they found was that even if in some parts of the brain, neural connections were weaker, the older participants made up for it by using unique areas of the brain like the hippocampus and dorsal prefrontal cortices. Areas like the hippocampus are normally needed to memorize complex things — for instance, lines from a Shakespearean play.
Affording Learning Costs Later in Life
Senior learners living on a smaller budget can still study for diplomas and degrees. Comprehensive course guide degreeplanet.com shows that there are many ways to get a degree quickly and affordably. For instance, Purdue University offers accelerated courses lasting as little as six weeks. Life experience can also gain you college credits, as can taking specific multiple choice tests. By opting for online learning, you can avoid the costs associated with traveling to and from university or even having to move to another state because the degree you wish to pursue isn’t available close to home.
Choose Your Subject
Learning does not necessarily have to be undertaken in a college setting. You may wish to learn about social media or other technologies that can keep you connected with others. Research undertaken at the University of Exeter has shown that receiving training on social media can improve cognitive capacity, increase self-competence, and have a positive impact on mental health. Ultimately, any subject that you are passionate about is a great place to start. Similar findings have been made for other activities that challenge the mind — including photography and even sewing. The key is novelty; new things can challenge us more than the things we already know well.
If you are an older adult who wonders if there is any benefit to honing your knowledge in a specific area, science has certainly answered in the affirmative. Older adults can do just as well as younger ones at memory-related tasks and learning in itself can boost cognitive ability. These days, obtaining an online degree or diploma is easier and more affordable than ever, but anything that inspires you will be a great start into the beauty of lifelong learning.