Learning Complex Skills Boosts Cognition

One of the keys to staying positive during challenging times and facing aging with excitement and energy is to participate in meaningful activities that nourish the mind, body, and soul.  As warm Summer evenings quickly fade into crisp Autumn mornings, it may be time to shift attention to a new challenge.  

Learning a new skill like a language, photography, car repair, or writing, can keep the brain engaged and help older adults stay mentally sharp and feel more relevant in today’s world.  If there’s been enough bread baking or closet organizing for one lifetime, it may be time for a new challenge.  Fortunately, many universities and colleges offer online classes seniors can audit free or for a reduced rate, and a growing community of online learning platforms, like Masterclass, CreativeLive or Udemy offer education in a wide range of topics.  

Active aging, exercising the body and the brain can help aging adults thrive.  Although brain games and reading can help preserve working memory, according to Harvard Health, taking a class to learn or hone a skill offers a complexity that engages multiple cognitive skills including visual comprehension, short and long term memory, attention to detail, and in some cases, math and calculations.  By pushing oneself out of the comfort zone into more cognitively demanding activities, greater mental benefits are reaped.  

A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that seniors between the ages of 60 and 90 assigned to learn a complex skill like quilting or digital photography showed more improvement in overall memory than participants who did simpler mental activities like crossword puzzles.   Although online classes may not offer the same social interaction as in-person lessons, many formats include break-out groups for students to discuss the material or work on projects together.  

Looking for a meaningful gift that doesn’t add clutter to the home?  Why not gift a subscription to an online learning platform, and people of all ages can enjoy that “back to school” excitement this fall.