The emphasis on lifelong learning has become a popular topic of cognitive psychological research in recent years. Continuing education or learning new skills is as easy as a click of a mouse, and oftentimes, online classes are free. Research on the long-term effects of mental stimulation suggest that the rate of cognitive declined may decrease for those mentally active on a regular basis. In addition to taking care of other manageable risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, and nutrition, “cognitive decline with aging is not inevitable, and many older adults, including some centenarians, appear to avoid cognitive decline even into the 11th decade of life” (Howard et al, 2002, p. 681).
The ability to continue learning is not necessarily lost with old age, and it is possible to stimulate the ability to recall information. It is also the case that an aged person who focused on education in earlier life can look forward to old age with a greater chance of retaining information learned many years ago. The plasticity of the brain also permits this adaptability; some parts of the brain can adapt and function to compensate for other parts of the brain that may have suffered some damage. Plasticity can also reduce the incidence of cognitive decline some people experience during old age (Howard et al, 2002, p. 682).
Similar to the muscles in the rest of the human body, the brain also needs periods of stimulating activity to remain healthy. Reading, writing, and problem solving activities contribute to the brains ability to retain information and to allow short-term memories to convert to long-term memories. Without memories, there is no opportunity to enjoy a quality of life. Often observed in old people, conversations with others can be vague because of the lack of ability to recall information and to relate to the topic of conversation by contributing with personal life experiences. According to Dr. Jeffrey Edwards (2009), improving memory and learning to improve the quality of life can be as simple as ensuring quality, refraining from drug abuse, and relaxing and making new associations (p. 3).
The desire to learn new skills often comes with maturity. The opportunity to return to school at a later age is realized by more people during mid-life than was the case many years ago. This quest for knowledge may be a sign of intelligence in itself and not a conscious decision to become a lifelong learner for the sake of improving the quality of life during old age. Still, the benefits of experiencing life with clarity of thought once thought to belong only to youth, is not only appealing, it also allows one to maintain a connectedness with the self. Who a person is, the decisions they make and what choices they make for the future, stem from information people learn, retain, consolidate, and recall at will. Lifelong learning is essential to good quality of life.
Edwards, D. J. (2009, August). How To Accomplish Lifelong Learning. Retrieved October 9th, 2011, from BYUWellness: http://wellness.byu.edu/pics/documents/newsletter/Aug09.%20Lifelong%20Learning.pdf
FILLIT, H.M., BUTLER, R.N., O’CONNELL, A.W., ALBERT, M.S., BIRREN, J.E., TULLY, Cottman, T.W., Tully, T. … (2002). Achieving and Maintaining Cognitive Vitality With Aging. Retrieved October 9th, 2011 from http://www.mayoclinicproceedings.com/content/77/7/681.full.pdf