Many older adults are finding that retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be. A life of leisure, shopping, golf, and playing bridge may make some seniors happy, but many others soon find that they crave more intellectual stimulation than what most retirement communities offer.
One thing that many seniors find missing in their lives is the satisfaction that comes from learning something new. After going to college and possibly continuing education classes during their working years, seniors find it difficult to have a full and satisfying life without learning being a part of it.
The Benefits of Lifelong Learning
There is no shortage of research about the positive effects of lifelong learning for seniors. One study, the Rush Memory and Aging Project in 2012, showed that cognitively active seniors were 2.6 times less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and dementia than those who were less cognitively active. The average age of seniors in the study was 80.
Professor Stephen McNair of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education said in the Guardian newspaper that lifelong learning helps seniors feel like they have a purpose in life even as they may be losing loved ones and friends that gave their lives a great deal of meaning.
Lifelong learning can also help seniors feel connected to their communities and the world at a time when isolation may set in because of health problems, moving to a retirement community or losing the ability to drive a car. Some retirement communities are even developing partnerships with local universities to offer continuing education to residents to help keep their minds sharp.
Lifelong learners are also less likely to become financially dependent on the government or others in their senior years. The more you learn about the world, the better you will be at managing your finances or coming up with ways to earn a little extra cash when you need it.
Why Learn in a Classroom?
Of course, learning doesn’t have to take place in a classroom, and many valuable things can only be learned outside the classroom; however, there are definite benefits to continuing education courses inside a classroom or in an academic setting.
Social contact. Getting older can be an isolating experience, especially when loved ones pass away before you and the daily contact you used to have with them is now gone. Taking classes can help you get some of that ongoing social contact that is so needed by anyone of any age.
Working together. In most academic coursework, even the non-credit variety, group work of some sort is required. Working as a team provides intellectual stimulation that no other learning or work can provide, which keeps different parts of your brain active than a solo activity like reading a book or doing a puzzle would do.
Feedback. Getting feedback from a teacher or your peers helps you learn more and evaluate your learning as you go, which improves the quality of that learning and makes it more challenging (in a good way). Feedback, like working with others in a group, will expose you to aspects of learning that you won’t be able to access in any other way.
CCSU is offering a Changing Aging event through the AARP and Dr. Bill Thomas on June 16 that will expose seniors to a whole new way of looking at aging and lifelong learning. Join our mailing list for updates on all our programs.