Content starts here
AARP AARP States Illinois Health & Wellbeing

Lifelong Learning Improves Brain Health by Dr. Smita Patel

AARP image September 2018

It’s that time of year again – back to school! For most of us in the United States, receiving a formal education is assumed. Some of us even continue to achieve advanced degrees, and go on to hold cognitively challenging jobs. But we can’t stop after we walk across the stage to receive our diploma. Lifelong learning – and the kind of highly educated lifestyle that comes with it – is good for the brain!  Not only can education increase our likelihood of higher living standards (less stress, better quality food and better quality of life), it also decreases our likelihood of developing dementia as we age.

Statistically speaking, we can blame more cases of Alzheimer’s disease around the world on lack of a formal education than on any other modifiable factor. People who are bilingual are less likely to develop cognitive decline, and those who do tend to develop it nearly five years later than people who only speak one language.  Increasing the brain’s complexity through cognitive activities like intellectually challenging work or learning a new language or instrument adds complexity to the brain, which is thought to increase the brain’s ability to “re-route” itself in the presence of disease (like amyloid plaques associated with dementia).  Many refer to this ability of the brain to function normally despite the presence of disease as “neuroplasticity” or “cognitive reserve.”

So as we welcome fall and reminisce about our days at school, commit to learning something new. Learn a new language. Take piano lessons. Join a book club.  We will be adding complexity to our brains and reducing our risk of cognitive decline.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Smita Patel


About the Author:

Dr. Smita Patel, DO, is a neurologist at NorthShore Neurological Institute and Director of the Center for Brain Health. Dr. Patel brings expertise in neurology and sleep along with complementary and integrative medicine to develop tailored health plans for her patients. She is board certified in neurology, sleep medicine and integrative medicine. Dr. Patel has participated in clinical research studies in the area of sleep medicine and has written book chapters for several academic publications on neurological disorders. She has a strong interest in researching the cause and treatment of neurological diseases as well as supporting and participating in educational programs. Dr. Patel directs a comprehensive team at the Center for Brain Health, and works with patients to improve brain health, and to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson disease and other brain disorders.. For more information, visit

About AARP Illinois
Contact information and more from your state office. Learn what we are doing to champion social change and help you live your best life.