Age is no barrier to older adults’ success in academic study, the latest University of Tasmania research shows.

Part of the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project run by the Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre, the research published in Nature’s Science of Learning showed age had no effect on the academic success of 329 university students aged between 50 and 79.

The study found older learners were less affected in their academic success by psychosocial factors that impacted academic success in younger university students, such as social connectedness, anxiety and depression.

Research also showed that IQ and variations in genes related to brain function that affected the results of younger students did not to have an influence on academic success.

This unique study shows that many factors that are important for determining academic success in younger people, such as IQ, do not apply to older learners.

Wicking Centre Director James Vickers.

“Instead, older adults can make use of a lifetime of experience, through engagement in mentally stimulating activities and in building knowledge and skills in the use of language, to enhance their success in university studies.”

The study was one of several carried out as part of the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project, based on the grade point average (GPA) of older students.

Professor Vickers said that as the global population rapidly aged, one of the fastest- growing groups enrolling in university and college courses was older adults seeking new career opportunities, who were approaching retirement or retired.

However, this was the first time a study had been carried out which looked at major factors influencing academic performance in university students over the age of 50.

The Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project was established in 2010 to investigate whether brain stimulation through engagement in university study, may provide resilience to ageing-related cognitive decline and dementia.

Study participant Sue Bailey said the project had provided her with many academic and personal benefits.

I am pleased to be part of this important world-first study into dementia.

Study participant Sue Bailey.

“I have learned so much and have always been motivated by the knowledge that I was studying as part of the Healthy Brain Project and for my beloved late mother who died in 2009 after a long battle with dementia.”

Professor Vickers said many studies carried out as part of the project had already shown the broad benefits of study in older people – especially in relation to dementia.

“Other studies by the Wicking Centre have already shown that older adult engagement in education can build cognitive reserve and enhance capacity in skills such as language processing, both of which may reduce the risk of dementia.”

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