Learning new skills keeps seniors happier and more engaged in daily life. Studies show that older adults who take guitar or music lessons reduce their chances of developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and age-related memory loss. Taking classes or lessons guards against the loneliness and social isolation seniors face by allowing them to interact with their teacher and other students.
Before seniors reap the benefits of learning how to play music, speak a foreign language, or any other skill, they encounter many challenges. The act of learning can exhaust a senior mentally, emotionally, and physically without suitable preparation. Here are a few of the most common problems older adults face when learning the guitar or any other new skill.
Psychological Resistance (“I’m too Old for That”)
Stubbornness, lack of self-confidence or the belief that old people “don’t do certain things” prevents many seniors from taking up new skills.
We live in a youth-oriented culture, where adults over 50 (or even over 40!) are considered too old to learn how to play the guitar or piano, sing or take up painting and other creative arts. But consider this quote from Julia Cameron book about creativity “The Artist’s Way.”
“Question- Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I learn to play the piano?
Answer – The same age you will be if you don’t.”
No One to Check Up on Their Progress or Encourage Them
Children have parents checking up on their homework, study habits, and piano practice. Young people discuss lessons with other students of their age and may study with them. Older students may not have a social circle that shares their new interest. Unless seniors have friends, children or caregivers to act as cheerleaders for their new hobby, they may lose interest.
Children’s Brains Vs. Adult Brains – Plasticity and Learning Ability
Children retain much more and learn at a faster pace than most adults. The prefrontal cortex in kids’ brains, which isn’t as developed as in adult brains, allows them to be more open and flexible during the learning process. The prefrontal cortex in the adult brain makes seniors (and other adults) see things as they are, with less room for creativity.
Music teachers and instructors in any field know ultimately that learning ability has less to do with age and more to do with the consistent study. Even younger students who stop and start their lessons won’t become as adept on the guitar as a senior who practices every day.
Learning at any age helps improve brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to change as a result of experience) by developing new connections between brain cells. While children naturally have the brain plasticity to learn more easily, seniors can keep growing new brain cells by learning and experiencing new things.
Seniors experience arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue and other health concerns that make learning difficult, but not impossible.
Playing music has been proven to be one of the best activities to boost seniors’ learning ability. An older adult can master the guitar – or at least learn to play a few favorite songs – with consistent practice.
Playing the guitar can help a senior in several ways:
• It forces them to concentrate
• Exercises their fingers and hands
• Enhances their social life
• Improves verbal fluency and cognitive control
Learning to play the guitar may be more difficult for seniors with joint problems, but a teacher can tailor the lessons so the student can master a few simple songs by using easier pen chords instead of barre chords, which require the student to stretch the fingers over the frets.
Learning new skills can help to keep a senior’s mind off their problems (physical or otherwise) by fully immersing them in something new and exciting. It gives seniors, especially these frail or isolated more confidence and zest for life.
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