Can Lifelong Learning Preserve Your Memory?

Can Lifelong Learning Preserve Your Memory?

Can Lifelong Learning Preserve Your Memory?

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One of the keys to keeping your mind limber is regular mental exercise. Your muscles need physical training to stay strong; your brain needs to be stretched out, too!

One of the best ways to exercise your brain is to challenge it by learning a new skill. Research has shown is that seniors who continue to learn after retirement may experience a lower incidence rate of memory loss and cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.


The key word is “lifelong.”

A landmark Mayo Clinic study found that continuing enrichment is associated with a delay in the onset of age-related mental decline.

The study found that the age of dementia onset was later for people who had worked in challenging careers or whose habits included strong intellectual pursuits.

A person who has engaged in regular intellectual exercise — through classwork, job roles that require a lot of thinking, or brain-stimulating leisure activities like reading, puzzles, writing, etc. — over the entire course of his or her life may indeed see extended cognitive benefits late in life.

People who have not regularly challenged their brains over the course of their lives may not be able to realize strong cognitive benefits if they, late in life, suddenly start a learning program.

That’s not to say that those folks shouldn’t try to learn new things — there are certainly social and mental wellness (happiness) benefits that come at any age when exploring new ideas and with meeting new people in classes and lectures. It’s just that there’s no clear evidence that the onset age of dementia can be delayed if a person who hasn’t made learning a priority suddenly decides to do so late in life.

Learning a foreign language may be one of the best ways to extend lifelong learning

People who have not regularly challenged their brains over the course of their lives may not be able to realize strong cognitive benefits if they, late in life, suddenly start a learning program.

A study published in Neurology found that, on average, bilinguals (people who speak two languages) experience the initial effects of cognitive decline — including mild memory loss, diminished capacity to make sound decisions and coordination loss — up to 4½ years later than people who speak only one language.

Over and above the possible cognitive benefits of learning another language, seniors who travel overseas in their retirement can have more fun, more fulfilling experiences when they have even a little bit of knowledge of the local language and culture. For one thing, it makes reading city maps, street signs and business signage much easier.

But it also surprises many Americans traveling abroad for the first time how friendly and helpful people in other countries can be when they try to speak with them in their own language — even small efforts impress folks and help bridge cultural divides. You’ll make friends and might even get a few tips about local restaurants and hotspots that aren’t in your travel guide.


There’s an app for that – learn a foreign language at home

For seniors, foreign language classes represent a tremendous opportunity to stretch and strengthen mental skills. And best of all, anyone can take them — even older people who are homebound and can’t attend in person.


Not all seniors have adopted smartphone or tablet technology. But for those who have, there is no shortage of APPs for learning a foreign language.

Many universities and language institutes offer low-cost distance learning courses that allow you to learn online, at your own pace. There are also software packages, like Rosetta Stone, that teach basic foreign language skills. But software-based courses can also be expensive, so before you purchase one, try looking in your local branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County for any language courses that might available to check out.  

And another wonderful aspect of learning foreign languages — you’re never done. There’s never a point at which you’ve learned everything about a language that there is to know, nor is there a point at which more practice is unnecessary. Once you start learning your language of choice, you’ll be on an unending journey of discovery!

Is there an older loved one in your life who is already experiencing signs cognitive loss? There are answers for you. Download the free Dementia Guidebook here.

Learn more about the options for your loved one at Marjorie P. Lee. And our team of experienced caregivers can help you decide when it’s time to get on a waiting list.

Episcopal Retirement Services works to improve the lives of older adults through innovative, quality senior living communities, and through in-home and community-based services. Its premier communities include the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community and Deupree House, located in the neighborhood of Hyde Park in Cincinnati.

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Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport

Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public re... Read More >

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