What affect does education have on our brain? As a person who comes from a long line of dementia and Alzheimer’s in my family, this question is particularly important to me and is one of the reasons I am so passionate about continuous learning and development of myself and others. If we can continue to learn through education and experiences, can we not only enrich our lives now, but exercise our brain to have less cognitive aging effects in the future?
According to Psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, our brains are designed to get rid of unused synaptic connections which is why our cognitive skills tend to decline after we graduate from college or retire from work. Even normal aging has a devastating effect on our ability to learn and remember, to reason, and on the speed with which we process information. However, every time we learn something new and practice it, our brain changes the structure of its neurons and allows them to receive information faster. Dr. Amen says, “You can harness your brain’s inherent plasticity to learn new skills, build a better memory or quicken your speed of processing abilities, which will help to keep you sharp as you age.”
Learning in a formal system allows you to continously be involved in mind stimulating activities which leads to less mental aging. “These acquired skills and knowledge, developed from extensive education, are likely to construct new, intensive, efficient, and stable (resilient and robust) neural networks that mediate cognitive functions like memory, language, and higher-cognitive processes.” Clinical studies show that patients with higher education have longer delays in dementia manifestation.
Informal education can be equally as important in exercising your brain which is where more experiences and casual classes outside your scope of normal study come in to play. As your brain ages, skills such as working memory, attention, organization and planning further develop with practice.
“Learning, whether by training or school education, is a process that modifies the brain through experiences.” – Jaeik Kim.
Life tends to push us in the direction of doing the same things day after day, but making a conscious effort to throw something different in your routine that you wouldn’t normally do, can provide long-term benefits. If formal education isn’t for you, try to seek out new experiences or literature that you are naturally drawn to which can provide important learning opportunities. It is hard to think of a better reason to invest in continuous learning for ourselves. I know that I want to do whatever I can to ensure that I am there mentally for my two boys as I grow older, and what better way to try and do that than by making my life better now?
I encourage you to find your “why”; your motivation and reason behind creating a better you. Write it down and keep it in mind when things seem hard or discouraging. You are the only one who can make the decision to improve your life now and for your future, and we are all capable of making small or big changes to get there. Thank you for reading!