Menu

Learning After 60

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 01, 2021

You've probably heard the saying, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Some people think that once you reach a certain age, you're too old to learn many things. But new research is showing that's not the case. In fact, older brains may be better at meeting some challenges than younger ones. 

You Can Do This

The more you learn, the better your brain is able to learn

A study looked at adults ages 58 to 86 who took three to five new classes for 3 months. They increased their mental abilities to the level of people 30 years younger after just a month and a half. 

Some people think that children and young people are more capable of learning. The truth might be that children are just put in a situation where they spend a lot of time learning new things. A survey of people over 40 found that 50% don't learn something new every week. If older adults act like children, at least in this sense, they are just as capable of learning

Advantages to Learning After 60

Although some things come harder to our brains as we age, there are also things that older brains do better. As you age, your brain changes the way it works. It may not be as fast as it was, but now you'll use more of your brain in certain tasks. This means your brain is actually working better than it was before.  

Lower levels of testosterone in men and women mean that older brains are better at impulse control. After midlife, mood swings are less likely to interfere with your thinking and decision-making. 

As you get older, you get better in some areas simply because you've had more experience. Here are some things you might improve at with age: 

  • Verbal abilities. Throughout your life, you'll continue to expand your vocabulary and improve your ability to communicate. 
  • Inductive reasoning. Older people may be less likely to rush to judgment. They’re more likely to reach the right decision based on the information they have. This means they may be better at solving problems. 
  • Visual-spatial skills. Your ability to judge where and how things move in space may improve with age. 
  • Basic math. You've had a lot more practice at it than someone younger than you. 
  • Tuning out negativity. The amygdala, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory and emotion, is less responsive to negative situations. People over 60 tend to brood less than those who are younger. 
  • Being content. You may feel more satisfied with your life as you age. Many older people minimize the negative and accept their circumstances. They also use their experience to overcome their limits. 

Obstacles to Learning After 60

Lack of confidence. This may be the biggest hurdle. In a study of memory tasks, people over 60 were more likely to doubt their memories even on simple tasks. Because of this doubt, they took longer to complete simple tasks. 

Test anxiety. Because some older people are more worried about their memory and ability to learn, they have more anxiety about it. This anxiety can interfere with their performance and make it harder to focus on learning.  

Tips for Learning After 60

Challenge your assumptions. As an older adult, the pathways in your brain are well-developed. You shouldn't focus only on learning new facts but also on learning new viewpoints. Challenge yourself by doing new things and exploring new ideas. Take a different way home from work, or read a history book that makes you think about what you know in a new way. 

Work out. Exercising is great for your brain. The benefit of exercise for keeping your brain sharp has been studied a lot. In one study of 160 people, those who exercised three times a week for 45 minutes showed improvements in thinking and memory. Those who exercised and ate a heart-healthy diet showed even more improvement. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Why Exercise Protects Your Brain’s Health (and What Kind Is Best)."

Current Directions in Psychological Science: "Memory Avoidance by Older Adults: When 'Old Dogs' Won’t Perform Their 'New Tricks.'"

Harvard Women's Health Watch: "Why you should thank your aging brain."

International Journal of Aging and Cognitive Development: "Test anxiety in elderly and young adults."

The Journals of Gerontology: Series B: "The Impact of Learning Multiple Real-World Skills on Cognitive Abilities and Functional Independence in Healthy Older Adults."

The New York Times: "How to Train the Aging Brain."

Scientific American: "Think You’re Too Old to Learn New Tricks?"

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info