How to Slow Cognitive Aging

books-1012088_640Matthew Solan, Executive Editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, has important advice about maintaining your brain health as you age. And it involves more than exercising. Most important is challenging it with new learning and continuous use of your social skills.

He quotes Dr. Ipsit Vahia, director of geriatric outpatient services for McLean Hospital, who advises patients to go back to school to pursue those goals.

“New brain cell growth can happen even late into adulthood,” says Dr. Vahia. “The process of learning and acquiring new information and experiences, like through structured classes, can stimulate that process.”

“Classes offer a complexity factor that have long-term benefits,” he adds. For instance, they engage cognitive skills, such as visual comprehension, short- and long-term memory, attention to detail, and even math and calculations.

“On a personal level, classes also keep your social skills sharp as well as boost self-confidence. “It is easy to become more socially isolated as people grow older,” says Dr. Vahia. “A class makes you interact and communicate with other people on a regular basis through group participation, conversations, and discussions.”

“According to Mr. Solan, “About 17% of adults older than age 35 are enrolled at a four-year college or university, or a community college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. And because more campuses now offer free or discounted tuition for seniors (with no earned credits), there are more opportunities for older adults to explore a variety of subjects and interests.”

“Many states offer tuition waivers for seniors at state-funded institutions. Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes are located on 119 college and university campuses and offer non-credit courses for those ages 50 and older. Local senior, community, and recreation centers offer many self-improvement classes in topics such as sculpting, pottery, and dance.”

Read the complete article: Back to school: Learning a new skill can slow cognitive aging. Follow @HarvardHealth on Twitter.