We used to think older people had a harder time learning, even couldn’t learn much new at all. I can remember hearing that we didn’t create new brain cells once we were adults. A lot of people get older and think, well, old dogs can’t learn new tricks, I’m too old to learn anything really new.
In recent years, though, scientist have discovered adult brains do actually change and even create new cells. It is true children have more learning centres in their brain. From the time babies are born they are constantly learning: how to walk, how to communicate, how to dress and use a spoon, how to play games. Learning is their full-time job! Babies and young children have something like five learning centres in their brain.
Most adults have one or two learning centres active in their brain, so we can turn on more brain capacity for learning new information and new skills. The best way to do this is to learn something you don’t already know.
Improving a skill you already have, like improving your golf game when you’ve been playing for 30 years, may not stimulate this shift in brain power; it needs to be something totally new. If you’ve never played a musical instrument, learning to play one, how to read music, joining a choir, is going to turn on the learning parts of your brain. Learning a new language is going to do the same thing.
The Idea that adult brains don’t change much is a thing of the past. Now researchers talk about “neuroplasticity,” that our brains have the ability to be flexible. If you learn something new, your brain can shift resources around so you have the capacity to learn more easily.
Your brain isn’t a muscle, but just as we need to exercise to stay flexible and strong, we can exercise our brains by learning new things.
So don’t be afraid to try something new! We all have the capacity to learn at any age.