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Why does learning get harder as you get older?

The brain is an incredibly complex work of art. It is also the most important organ in your body as it houses all your identities, thoughts and memories. So when you hear that there is a link between age and learning disabilities, it’s understandable that you want to know more.

The most common reason why learning becomes more difficult as you get older is that your brain has been absorbing information for many years. It’s getting packed and can’t handle the same amount of data as before. According to the HGH Therapy Clinic, high levels of growth hormone positively affect cognition and learning: students find that what was once easy becomes difficult. Thus, this results in a perception of increased difficulty and additional challenges with the cognitive processing strategies that are often needed to process new information, i.e. difficulty understanding new stimuli or a lack of competence to “process, store, retrieve and use the acquired knowledge”.

In addition to getting older, six factors make it harder for children to learn as they grow:

1 – The school system must have the most effective teaching methods

We can complain about our child’s teacher, but could we be more interested in our child’s education if we understood how the brain processes information? This can help you understand why your child may be struggling to learn and what you might be able to do about it.

2 – Your metabolism has changed

How do you learn? If you’re like most people, you “get it” by reading or listening to someone or doing something new, like traveling or experiencing something for the first time. Your brain then processes all the information and internalizes what is important. The memory becomes part of your long-term memory bank and can be easily retrieved when needed (i.e. if you need to explain what happened on your travels). Once the information from the initial learning stimulus is removed, it has become part of your brain’s long-term memory bank and you can use it later. As we age, our brain is affected by changes in our metabolism. The two processes that affect this are:

A. The rate at which we metabolize food. In other words, how quickly your body processes what you eat and how quickly it can burn it for energy.

B. The amount of fuel you burn during daily life (called basal metabolic rate). This is measured in calories, and healthy adults typically burn about 3500 calories per day. These factors affect the amount of fuel your brain needs to function optimally. The more efficient your metabolism is, the more power you have to produce the energy you need throughout the day. Most older people do not have an efficient metabolism, resulting in a slower metabolic rate. This results in a slower rate of “burning” of fuel for the brain and you need to burn more calories to stay cognitively healthy. If you have less energy to work with, it will be harder for you to learn more efficiently.

3 – Your brain’s response to the environment is changing

You seek and learn new and exciting things when you are young. As you get older, that changes. When you’re young, your brain is more attracted to novelty (new challenges), so your learning environment contains a lot of new information.

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But as we age, our brains are more influenced by things we’ve learned than by new things. As a result, we gravitate more toward what we already know, and our environment can feel “old and dry” if you lack new challenges.

4 – Your brain has gotten used to old habits (habituation)

This is the effect that occurs when a stimulus is repeated several times. What happens is that your brain gets used to processing information. It becomes “old hat”, so to speak, and you are no longer interested in doing it.

5 – Your brain has compensated for weaknesses by creating new pathways (learned behavior)

When your brain determines what you’re good at and what you’re bad at, it adjusts how it processes information (encoding) based on that. Develop new habits that help compensate for your weaknesses, which can reduce your ability to learn the things you’re not good at.

6 – You need help prioritizing your tasks, which can lead to multitasking.

Multitasking is an increasingly popular way of getting things done, and it has become especially prevalent as technology has advanced. These techniques allow you to do more than one thing at a time, but they come at a cost: they reduce your overall learning capacity. This is why older learners do well in some areas of their lives, but not in others. It’s also important to track what you’re doing and compare it to your learning goals, as your goals may be achieved with a lower level of learning than you originally expected.

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Download a free chapter of The Brain That Changes Itself and learn more. When assessing your child’s learning environment, keep this in mind: If it’s been years since they started school or had their last assessment, it’s hard to know what their brain has been doing.

What is the result?

Since you were young, your brain has been actively creating new connections, but it’s also been weeding out the ones that aren’t important or relevant. Therefore, cognitive factors should be considered when evaluating your child’s performance in school. Addressing learning difficulties represents an important opportunity to improve your child’s ability to learn and achieve more.

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