Wed, 5 Nov, 2014Melody Teh

Why study is the key to keeping your brain healthy as you age

Why study is the key to keeping your brain healthy as you age

Two Over60 community members talk about studying later in life, how it keeps their mind healthy and why they keep going back for more.

The word study for many people conjures up memories of restless school days, strict teachers and homework you had to force yourself to complete. However, education isn’t just limited to schools – if you think about our everyday lives, we are constantly learning new things. Whether it’s trying out a new recipe, learning about historic events through a film or attempting to remember algebra so we can help our grandkids, it’s clear learning is a lifelong process. Research consistently shows that keeping your mind active has many health benefits. For over-60s, it helps to keep your mind stimulated and mental faculties in top condition as well as improving your overall wellbeing. It is why there are increasingly more seniors who are seeking to study later in life – and they’re finding they not only love it, but that it’s rewarding in so many ways.

For Bernard Macdougall, 73, from Maryborough, Queensland, taking courses and learning new things has been crucial in keeping his mind astute. It was after searching online that Bernard stumbled across the free Open2Study courses.

“A couple of year ago I was starting to get a bit anxious about whether I had any brain damage. I had a bit of numbness on the right side of my body and I felt I had a slight impediment in my speech,” he reveals, continuing, “but when I found I could get high marks in these courses I thought well I don’t have to worry, my brain is working, there hasn’t been any deterioration.”

Bernard found there was a great variety in courses offered and the option of short one-month timeframes could be easily managed. He ended up taking three courses through Open2Study and another online course through Charles Darwin University.

It was a similar case for Peter Keyes, 78, from Albion Park Rail, New South Wales, who has completed four courses through Open2Study. Peter has worked in education all his life so when retirement came around he wasn’t about to stop learning.

“You can’t sit around in retirement and twiddle your thumbs,” he laughs, adding, “I live in a retirement village and I encourage all of [the residents] to do some study rather than sit around and watch TV all day! It keeps the brain kicking.”

As well as keeping him busy, Peter also found the courses were helpful and informative.

“During my career in education I ended up being an administrator looking after buildings so I was interested in one of the courses ‘Project Management’. It gave me a further insight into the processes that I used in setting up the buildings of school buildings,” he explains, continuing, “In [my] retirement village, management occasionally ask me to go into planning meetings and talk about what things [to consider] in terms of buildings and older people.”

Studying is not only about learning new things but as Bernard found, it can be personally fulfilling too.

“Back in the 70s, I did an arts degree with major studies in anthropology. I saw that Open2Study had a course called ‘Becoming Human’. I thought, ‘Right I will have a go at that’,” explains Bernard. He soon found he was not only learning about new theories but about what it means to become human. “I was very emotionally involved as it was about human evolution,” he says.

Both Bernard and Peter found the online courses easy to manage – all that was needed was a computer and an internet connection to access the course that you could do in the convenience and comfort of your own home.

Lectures were presented through short videos, which Peter found convenient: “You can stop it at any time, make a note and then catch up,” he explains.

And for those who are worried that studying means taking exams or doing assessments again, Peter advises you not to worry.

“When people hear that they’ve got exams or test or assessment to do, they get a bit frightened. But you teach them there’s nothing to it, you can always stop and go back and have another read,” says Peter.

While there are assessments – mainly multiple choice – throughout most courses, it’s not about being competitive but having a barometer for your individual progress. It is simply there so you know how much knowledge you have learnt during the course.  

Bernard found that although he felt apprehensive sometimes, there was a greatly fulfilling feeling of not only accomplishing the assessment but gaining some high marks.

“I put a lot of work into study and when you have to press the final submit button, sometimes I was extremely apprehensive because I was anxious to get good marks,” Bernard explains, adding, “I think one has to devote time to it but it’s time I’m happy to spend.”

Both Peter and Bernard are quick to reveal that they are not going to stop studying anytime soon. Peter has just signed up to Open2Study’s ‘Innovation for Powerful Outcomes’ course while Bernard is still half way through the ‘User Experience for the Web’ course.

“The course is self-paced so I can start again and there’s no deadline for me, thank goodness,” Bernard smiles.

After each completing a number of courses, they can’t speak highly enough about how beneficial studying has been for them.

“It keeps the little grey cells going,” states Peter, because as he know only too well, “the pool of knowledge, skill, understanding and wisdom is enormous” in the over-60 community.

“For me it is very, very important to keep learning as you age. Partly so that I know my brain is still good and not fading away,” Bernard chuckles, continuing, “it is also just a matter of curiosity. I’m just interested in learning new topics.”