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Wellness Blog

Should Seniors Improve Math Skills? Yes!

seniors improve math skills

Everyone acknowledges mathematics is important. Students are required to take math courses until they’re 18. STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses emphasize math. It’s the basis of everything we do.

The U.S. has even instituted Pi Day March 14 (pi=3.14) to increase awareness of the importance of math.


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What Is Pi Day?

Pi Day was started in 1988 at the Exploratorium, a science museum in San Francisco. Staff physicist Larry Shaw first developed the concept, which was celebrated with a circular parade and eating fruit pies.

The concept of pi is important because it represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Wherever you have a circle, pi is there.

And one of the reasons pi is so cool is that it is an irrational transcendental number, which means its decimals continue to infinity. Although we may equate pi with 3.14, it continues forever. At this point, mathematicians have computed pi to a trillion decimal places.

The celebration of Pi Day is evidence of the increasing importance of math in today’s world.

Why Is Math of Value to Seniors?

Everyone is jumping on the mathematics bandwagon...except for older adults. The reason is not because of our failure but society’s. If, after you graduate from high school, you don’t continue in a select few professions, your exposure to working with math is limited.

And that’s a shame, proclaims the American Mathematics Society. Mathematics classes should be widely available to nontraditional and older students, and employers should be encouraged to fund them, the society advises.

However, even the American Mathematics Society doesn’t go so far as to encourage seniors to learn math. There’s even prejudice against older mathematicians, because many believe important work in the field can’t be performed by anyone over the age of 35.

Isaac Newton, by the way, presented his three laws of motion when he was 43. Carl Friedrich Gauss discovered his Theorema Egregium in his 50s. Joseph Fourier published his theory of heat when he was 55. Karl Weierstrass published the Weierstrass approximation theorem when he was 70.

The mathematics community not only fails to promote math for older adults, its attitude appears downright discouraging. And that’s led to few studies about seniors and math, as well as little or no information about the benefits of mathematics for seniors.

Whether older people can become math geniuses is beside the point, because learning and using new mathematics skills, no matter your age, has the same brain benefits as learning a musical instrument or a second language.

  • Alzheimer’s disease/memory loss prevention
  • Improved brain health/neuroplasticity/cognition
  • Improved sleep
  • Stress reduction
  • Ability to adapt to change

Learning and using new math skills breaks you out of your comfort zone. As a result, it enhances creativity and increases self-knowledge.

Learning and using math offers additional advantages because it makes your life easier. In your daily life, math is used in:

  • Banking: Compounding simple and compound interest
  • Shopping: Calculating sales tax
  • Budgeting: Adding up expenses and income and comparing them
  • Hospitals: Understanding your chart and your bill
  • Traveling: Computing speed and distance to determine arrival time

The brain areas involved in working with math differ from those engaged in nonmathematical thinking. As part of a study comparing mathematicians and nonmathematicians, thinking about math activated a network including bilateral intraparietal, dorsal prefrontal, and inferior temporal regions of the brain in mathematicians only.

The results of the study led researchers to wonder if engaging in mathematical work developed those areas of the brain or whether enhanced functioning in those areas of the brain increased mathematical aptitude.

How Can You Improve Your Math Skills?

There are numerous online brain training games that require math. Here are 4 free sites that offer math and other brain training games:

  1. www.mathplayground.com (elementary students)
  2. www.funbrain.com (elementary students)
  3. www.brainmetrix.com (adults)
  4. AARP Staying Sharp brain games (older adults)

You can also purchase puzzle books at your local bookstore.

Remember: If it’s difficult, it’s working. The harder it is to do something, the more benefit your brain receives from it.

You Are More Than Your Brain

At The Esquiline, intellectual wellness is just one of our priorities. Can our retirement community’s emphasis on wellness help you with your intellectual, physical, social and spiritual growth? Call us at 618-394-6400 or contact us here.