What Are the Benefits of Lifelong Learning?

a group of seniors learning in a class

Learning is good for your brain. And that’s good news for older adults who worry about memory loss and cognitive changes that occur with age.

Lifelong learning — continually learning and experiencing new things — encourages the growth of new brain cells and stimulates the connections between them. It’s also a great way to meet new people. Staying socially active is key to psychological well-being and may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.

If you want to keep your gray matter in great shape and improve your quality of life, read on to explore the benefits of lifelong learning for seniors.

Improves your memory: There’s evidence to suggest that learning new skills improves memory in older adults. Neuroscientists at the University of Texas found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities like playing games or puzzles. When tested a year later, memory improvements were maintained.

A similar study asked older adults to take three to five undergraduate classes for three months. The classes included learning Spanish, how to use an iPad, photography, drawing/painting, and music composition. Study participants increased their cognitive abilities to levels similar to middle-aged adults, 30 years younger, after just 1.5 months.

Of course, learning any new skill has benefits, so if quilting isn’t your thing, try learning to play an instrument. Or if you’re a musician, you might try learning to play bridge. Whatever you think you’d enjoy is a good place to start.

Takes you away from your troubles: Learning a new skill requires undivided attention. When you’re totally engaged in learning, troubling thoughts are pushed to the sidelines. Instead of dwelling on your problems, you become immersed in learning something you’re passionate about. And that’s not just good for your mind; it’s good for your body too.

When you’re enjoying yourself and worrying less, your stress levels go down. Lower stress levels reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack and depression. So take a class, join a club, or get lost in a book. Simply reading for six minutes has been found to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system.

Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s: A research study at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland found that engaging in a lifelong pursuit of mentally challenging activities may help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that seniors who frequently read, played mentally challenging games like chess, or engaged in other intellectually stimulating activities are 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s.

Another study found that seniors who reported higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes had a marked delay in the onset of memory problems. This may be because study participants who reported more intellectual activity over their lifetimes built up a cognitive reserve that compensates for the effects of Alzheimer’s. Even though some participants may have had plaques in their brains, it didn’t affect their memory.  

Connects you with others who share your interests: Social isolation has serious health risks for older adults, including increased risk of dementia, heart disease and stroke. Participating in lifelong learning programs offers seniors a path to reconnect with the world. It’s a great way to meet people who share your interests and engage with others. Plus, you’ll build strong friendships as you learn together.

It’s well established that people who engage in personally meaningful and productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. So if you’re feeling isolated or lonely, check out lifelong learning opportunities in your area.

Pursue your passions at Wyndemere.

One of the advantages of living in a senior living community like Wyndemere is the many opportunities available for lifelong learning. There are painting classes and a woodworking shop. Art history classes and cooking demonstrations. Bridge club and knitting group. Concerts in the auditorium, Mini Ravini festivals on the terrace, and trips to the College of DuPage to attend musical and theatrical performances.

Visiting professors often give lectures on a host of topics of interest to residents. Plus, lifelong learning classes are available through local colleges and the Naperville Public Library. For more information on lifelong learning opportunities at Wyndemere, visit our Wellness Activities page.