Most of us know the specific steps to take to keep our bodies healthy as we age: stay active, eat well, don’t smoke, get enough sleep, and keep up with doctor visits. But when it comes to keeping an aging brain sharp, the advice is often a vague suggestion to “use it or lose it.”
It’s true that engaging the brain plays a significant role in warding off impairments such as Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, so it’s important to keep your loved one mentally active—and actively learning.
The benefits of learning
At Hearthstone, we’ve seen that seniors who make learning a priority as they age enjoy a number of positive results, with benefits that range from “basic” to “brain boosting.” These are the top five:
- More verbal capacity
Doing the crossword puzzle, joining a public speaking group, or simply having a conversation with new people are all ways for seniors to boost their verbal capacity. Your loved one can strengthen his or her communication skills by learning new vocabulary (in English or another language), then using those newly learned words on a regular basis.
- Slower memory loss
While it’s normal for anyone to suffer the occasional “senior moment,” learning new information strengthens the brain in a way that can help prevent major memory lapses. Learning and retaining new information is good for the memory, whether it’s gained by researching an interest online or listening to a lecture.
- Maintain physical abilities
Depending on the activity, learning something new can have a positive effect on a senior’s physical abilities, too. Taking up a hobby like woodworking or gardening provides exercise and helps keep joints flexible; while learning to knit or grasping a paintbrush can improve fine motor skills.
- Social connections
With many classes available at senior centers, learning something new is a great way to meet others, and prevent isolation and loneliness. Learning in a collaborative environment enables your loved one to connect with others who share similar interests.
- A sense of accomplishment
No matter what a person’s age, mastering something new brings a sense of pride and accomplishment. That feeling of satisfaction encourages a desire for continued learning and growth (not to mention a big boost in self esteem!). Those who challenge themselves to learn something new each day gain a renewed sense of purpose and positivity.
Learning something new can be rewarding mentally, physically and emotionally at every age. But if your primary goal is to help keep your loved one’s mind sharp, research suggests that the “subject matter” can make big difference.
Getting the maximum brain boost
Activities like solving the daily crossword or sudoku puzzle are popular with many seniors, and they can improve short term memory. But there’s a way to get an ever bigger brain boost: learning something totally new and fairly complicated.
A study done at the University of Texas at Dallas showed greater cognitive improvements in seniors who learned a mentally demanding skill they’d never tried before than in seniors who engaged in hobbies already familiar to them.
Learning a new, complex skill (such as photography, playing the piano or knitting) taps into different networks of the brain simultaneously. It’s that coordination between working memory, long term memory and other high-level cognitive processes that has such a positive effect on the senior brain.
Researcher Denise Park put it this way: “When you’re inside your comfort zone you may be outside of your enhancement zone. It’s important to get out (of your comfort zone) and do something that is unfamiliar and mentally challenging.”
Learn more about Hearthstone
At Hearthstone Senior Living, we believe you’re never too old to keep learning, which is why both of our Beaverton communities feature a unique interactive technology called “It’s Never Too Late” (iN2L).
Using a picture-based touchscreen, residents simply “touch” their way to engaging content that plays on a TV-sized monitor. The content includes sign language, Ted Talks, college lectures, interactive games, brain exercises and much more—and residents choose which new programs they’d like to see added each month.
We invite you to come see all the ways Hearthstone living keeps seniors active and engaged in life. Call or click to set up a personal tour today to learn more!
Hearthstone of Beaverton:
12520 SW Hart Road
Beaverton, OR 97008
10880 SW Davies Road
Beaverton, OR 97008