You're never too old to learn

By April Lewis

Peace Arch News, June 09, 2011

Prunes... I remember the prunes... he talked about prunes.

He is Terry Small, The Brainguy, a local learning specialist.

I recently attended his colourful and informative Brain Boosting seminar. Small says learning is one way to boost our brain power and "learning is connecting new information to what you already know.

"That's encouraging. Learning and keeping our minds active is something we Zoomers are concerned with as we age.There are 14.5 million Canadians over the age of 45, and you can be sure we are worried about our brain health.

We don't want to lose our mental faculties as we grow older.

The facts about dementia and Alzheimer's disease are frightening. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 64 per cent of all dementias in Canada.

Alzheimer's and related dementias affect 500,000 Canadians per year. One in 11 Canadians over 65 has dementia, and more women than men are affected.

Brain fitness is just as important as physical fitness, as we age. Exercising and eating right are good for the brain, we are told...

So is starting something complex and new. Activities that involve critical thinking, focus and memory are also beneficial.

So, what can we Zoomers do to improve our brain fitness and ward off dementia?

Go back to school! In a keynote address by Capilano University president Dr. Kris Bulcroft, at the school's Third Age Learning conference, said: "It is what you learn after you know it all that counts."

New learning demands unlearning. We must unlearn the habitualized ways of seeing the world, and discard our old assumptions and myths about things.

Get rid of old habits and move beyond our past experiences and learned behaviours. Unlearn them and move on. Break the stereotypes that we are too old to learn.

I remember thinking how old I was at 46 when I returned to UBC to complete my master's degree. How attitudes have changed!

Lynn, 66, a life coach, does not consider herself too old to learn. She recently enrolled in university.

I'm doing a BA in psychology because it's something I've wanted to do for many years.

Learning keeps our brains active and prevents us from aging prematurely. I feel both challenged and stimulated. I've discovered that my memory works better than I thought it would. Another Lynne, aged 65, a successful business owner and marathon runner, is pursuing her arts degree.

For me, at age 65, I love the life experiences I bring to my courses. School is a much richer, satisfying and empowering experience. I have discovered I am as capable as anyone at any age, and this confidence permeates all areas in my life.

A former SFU learning expert, Julian Benedict, stresses there is a direct correlation between healthy living and lifelong learning. Benedict says new learning promotes better health, increased self-esteem and improved memory.

Eighty per cent of seniors return to school for the simple joy of learning and the emotional and social connections they make. This joy of learning results in stress reduction and less medication usage and visits to the doctor.

Sounds pretty good to me.

And what has learning got to do with prunes? Why, they are considered the number 1 brain food!

And we all know about the other benefits they provide for our aging bodies!

April Lewis is the local communications director for CARP, a national group committed to a 'New Vision of Aging for Canada.' She writes monthly.