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Dementia and learning – benefits of continuing your education

Friday, December 27th, 2013
Issue 52, Volume 17.

RIVERSIDE COUNTY – Many people joke about the forgetfulness that comes with age, but the laughing stops when absent-mindedness is diagnosed as dementia.

According to Dementia Care Central, an online resource for dementia caregivers, the site estimated 5.4 million people in the U.S. have Alzheimerís. That may be a shocking number, but keep in mind that Alzheimerís disease is only one form of dementia.

Finding ways to avoid memory issues as you age is important to everyone, but especially vital to those who have a family member who has been diagnosed with dementia. The good news is that researchers are continually discovering methods and techniques that improve, delay or even prevent dementia from occurring. One interesting line of attack against the debilitating disease is continuing your

education. You may have been relieved when you finally graduated and moved on to the real world, but remaining a lifelong student will decrease your chances of battling devastating memory issues.

Why it works

Maintaining a sharp mind is one of the most effective ways to prevent dementia. Thatís because your brain is just like any muscle in your body: if you donít use it, youíll lose it. And just like other muscles, exercising your brain will improve its condition.

Academic stimulation improves cognitive reserve, which is what gives your brain the ability to resist dementia. The way it works is that by challenging yourself to learn something new and complex, youíll improve your cognitive reserve which increases neural connections. Those neural connections increase blood flow in your brain. More blood flow and more neural activity results in a stronger brain that is less susceptible to dementia and the nerve cell damage it causes.

Effective activities

So if intellectual stimulation is the goal, will doing the crossword or Sudoku puzzles in the Sunday paper work? Advertisement
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Sure they will, and puzzles and memory games are most often listed as useful prevention tools by authoritative sources such as the Mayo Clinic.

But thereís a reason that continuing education is usually listed as a strategy all on its own. Thatís because challenging your brain to learn and retain information has its own value separate from solving brain teaser puzzles. Learning a new skill or activity that challenges you results in greater benefits, such as learning to play an instrument or mastering a new language.

In fact, learning and speaking more than one language has been singled out as a useful deterrent for dementia. A†study published in November 2013 in "Neurology"†found that bilingual patients who did develop dementia, developed it about 4.5 years later than unilingual patients.

Resources for continuing your education

If youíve been out of the school setting for a long time, you might be unsure on how to go about continuing your education. Youíre living at an opportune time, though.

Education has gone electronic, with many learning opportunities online. With a high-speed internet connection and some spare time, you can take classes in language, literature, math, economics, physics and even cooking or music.

The first place to check for opportunities is a local university or community college if you have one nearby. Almost all colleges now have at least some classes available online, and many have their full catalog accessible online for study.

If you'd prefer to virtually attend a university that is known for specialties in certain fields, use an online resource such as CollegeOnline.

Youíll be able to indicate whether youíre pursuing a degree or not and select a course of study. These sites use the information you input to find the online colleges offering the courses that best suit you.



Comment Profile ImageAndrew Weiler
Comment #1 | Saturday, Dec 28, 2013 at 10:24 pm
There is no doubt in my mind that learning will keep the dreaded "D" word away. However there is learning and then there is learning. When learning languages it is best to stay clear of traditional memorization based language learning, whether it be vocabulary or grammar and concentrate on learning by being involved and doing. Here are some ideas on what that could entail:
That way "real" learning will kick in rather than the ersatz version. And that way the dreaded D is more likely to stay away!.
Comment Profile ImageWellesley
Comment #2 | Sunday, Dec 29, 2013 at 7:57 pm
Not only will remaining a "lifelong student" help lower the risk of Alzheimer's, but learning about new things and being open to new ideas can also enrich your life and the lives of others. With the rise of online education, there are so many great resources to help you do this, and one of my favorites is CourseWorld has videos about a huge range of topics in the arts and humanities, and its large library means you're bound to find something that interests you!
Comment Profile ImageJoe Wasylyk
Comment #3 | Sunday, Jan 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Lifelong Learning should probably be the new buzz words for ALL Boomers/Elders. Today, a senior could have 20-30 years or more in retirement. This means more free time to pursue Lifelong Learning courses, workshops and seminars. On the other hand, the Boomers/Elders can choose to pursue a new career (second or third Act) as a social or business entrepreneur or small business owner. This will require a more disciplined approach to Lifelong Learning where new skills are required eg. micro-business training or computer literacy, to startup a new business after the age of 50.
Comment Profile ImageJammy
Comment #4 | Friday, Jan 24, 2014 at 2:14 am
Nice post.

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Valley News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.


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