The average age of a college student in the United States is between 18 and 25 years old but a small percentage of college students are over the age of 50. With the school year drawing near, Dr. Angela Catic of Baylor College of Medicine, says it’s never too late to go back to school.
“Returning to school at an older age has multiple possible benefits,” said Catic, assistant professor in the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor.
Adults who return to school later in life often choose to study topics they find to be of personal interest and often are studying simply for the love of learning, she said. In addition, they may be more committed and devote more time to their studies as opposed to when they were younger.
Returning to school at an older age can have significant positive social and cognitive benefits, Catic said. “Elders are able to interact with a diverse peer group in the school and often make friends whom they would otherwise never have had the opportunity to meet,” she said.
To help maintain a high degree of cognitive engagement at an older age, it is important to learn new information that activates the brain.
“Learning new information or acquiring new skills helps maintain the plasticity of the brain as we age and can help to prevent or delay cognitive decline,” she said.
Returning to school at an older age could have negative effects on the individual if the schedule is intense, which may lead to frustration and fatigue. However, she says these negative effects are no different than concerns faced by anyone who attends school.
Keeping the mind active is key to maintaining beneficial cognition during the aging process. Depending on the intensity of the program, and content of the curriculum, almost any elder can benefit from learning something new that they find interesting, Catic said.
“I absolutely recommend that elders return to school if this is something they are open to. It provides them with mental and social stimulation in addition to the opportunity to learn about something they enjoy,” she said.