Kids are like sponges. They’re eager to absorb new information and they’re very good at catching on to new concepts, ideas, and skills. That’s important as they go to school and gain the skills and knowledge they’ll need during adulthood. But what about learning later in life? Is there such a thing as being “too old to learn?”
Sayings like “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and stereotypes about older individuals’ capacity for learning have been around for decades. But these are largely misconceptions that have been disproved by new research.
Think You’re Too Old? Think Again
As a society, we often subconsciously put an age limit on learning. We encourage learning in kids, teens, and young adults, but often discourage older people from trying to learn new information and skills.
Fortunately, that attitude is starting to change. More people of all ages are seeking out new information and changing their lives. You’re never too old to learn. In fact, learning throughout your lifetime can have some major benefits for your health and well-being.
There’s a Ton of Retirees Heading Back to School
If you’re self-conscious about the idea of taking a class or going back to school because you think you’ll be the only one over the age of 50, you might be surprised to find that your fellow students are more like you than you’d expect.
These days, lots of retirees are heading back to school for many different reasons. Some people just want a fulfilling way to spend their time during retirement. Others want to keep their mind sharp, discover new interests, and socialize with other students. And of course, some older Americans want to continue working and take classes to hone their skills or change careers.
Many schools offer free or inexpensive tuition for retirees, typically on an audit basis. Students won’t earn credit, but they will get the opportunity to learn and engage with a community of like-minded people.
Benefits of Learning As You Age
The concept that learning is only for the young is damaging to people as they get older. Learning throughout your life is actually a great way to protect your brain and stay sharp.
Research shows that people who get a college education live longer, make more money, and enjoy mental health benefits. Men who hold a bachelor’s degree live 12.9 years longer on average than those without a degree. For women, the margin is 10.4 years.
Older men and women can also use education to adapt to the job market and enjoy better financial health later in life. Those with a bachelor’s degree earn more and are less likely to be unemployed than people with a lower level of education. In a rapidly-changing job market, more education can make a positive difference in employability long-term.
Learning Later in Life Can Help Against Depression
Mental health is a huge concern for people of all ages. Anxiety and depression are among the top mental illnesses afflicting Americans, affecting well-being, quality of life, and even influencing suicide in some cases. 18 million people struggle with depression each year in the United States, and although there are many resources to help those who need it, stigma and other factors mean that many people suffer in silence.
There are many ways to help reduce anxiety and depression, including exercise, medication, psychotherapy, and meditation. Some people also use remedies like cannabis extract to reduce their symptoms.
Because of the mental health benefits of lifelong learning, we now know that keeping the brain engaged is yet another way to help fight depression. People want to feel fulfilled, engaged, and like they’re doing something important at every stage of their lives. By continuing to learn and evolve, older Americans can help protect themselves against common mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Unsure of What To Learn? Keep it Practical – Study What You Need to Know
You may understand all the benefits of learning at every stage of your life, but you also might be wondering: what should you learn?
Unless you’re interested in a specific subject or you want to pick up a new hobby, it can be hard to decide what to learn next. If that’s your dilemma, try keeping it practical. Even something as simple as learning better financial management strategies can help you stay sharp and allow you to gain the benefits of learning.
Don’t be intimidated! Taking a class, reading a book on a new subject, and even doing daily puzzles are all great ways to keep you learning and enjoying life.
Contributed by Patricia Monson. Patricia is the Research Coordinator at
Applied Nursing Research and enjoys sharing the latest high-level
research on senior health and care.