Lifelong Learning for Seniors
A healthy mind-body connection is crucial to getting the most out of life at any age. However, as we get older, this becomes even more important. Many scientific studies over the years have shown that a mix of both physical and intellectual activity as we age helps us maintain our overall well-being. Engaging in lifelong learning stimulates our brains and keeps our minds sharp.
What exactly is lifelong learning?
Lifelong learning is the broad term for education that’s conducted beyond school. Most people associate learning with formal education in schools and view it as age-based, i.e., meant to prepare children and adolescents to become informed adults and begin a career. However, “schooling” is only one type of learning. There are many other opportunities to further your knowledge and develop new skills you need throughout life. Instead of ending education at a specific age, people are encouraged to continue learning throughout their lifetimes, whether through their own self-directed learning or in adult education and continuing education classrooms.
Learning happens all the time, of course. Reading a newspaper or book or completing crossword puzzles are all considered informal lifelong learning. So, in some ways, everyone is a lifelong learner. However, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude about learning. Lifelong learners are motivated to seek knowledge.
Benefits of lifelong learning
Research showing the benefits of continuing education in older adults is still limited. However, one study with encouraging results occurred as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study of more than 1,200 senior citizens who underwent cognitive testing for up to five years. The study revealed that cognitively active seniors, whose average age was 80, were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who were cognitively inactive.
The study also showed that frequent cognitive activity during old age was associated with a decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment, a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia, as well as a slowed decline in cognitive function. It’s becoming apparent that an enriched environment, whether through a formal university program or self-directed learning, has an important role in active aging and helping older adults compensate for cognitive and emotional decline.
Social benefits of lifelong learning
Cognitive fitness is not the only benefit. Seniors who make a habit of continued learning experience a greater level of self-fulfillment. Learning sparks social engagement – we often connect with others because we want to learn from them and with them. By participating in learning programs and classes, you broaden your network of connections. There are numerous personal benefits to all of this socializing. There is evidence, for example, that people with strong social connections tend to be happier and live longer.
Other findings show that interacting with family and friends and cultivating social networks provide a cognitive reserve. Some suggest that simply talking helps keep the mind sharp. Older people with more extensive social networks are less likely to suffer cognitive impairment than those whose social networks are more limited.
Lifelong learning options for senior citizens
More older Americans are going back to school, but lifelong learning is more than that. Plenty of programs are available online. And many communities have continuing education programs – as well as classes available through senior centers or libraries.
In Fairfield County, Connecticut, Lifelong Learners is a not-for-profit, community-based membership organization of those who share a love of learning. The program is presented by the Bigelow Center for Senior Activities, in cooperation with Sacred Heart University and in affiliation with the Elderhostel Network. All sessions are held at the Bigelow Center. Classes are taught by distinguished instructors and have no prerequisites or mandatory assignments – just a relaxed learning experience to enjoy at your own pace.
If you enjoy travel, Road Scholar offers educational adventures created by Elderhostel. The organization specializes in a variety of classroom programs and travel adventures for adults and children. Road Scholar now offers 5,500 learning adventures, including trips for grandparents and their grandchildren. Some of the most popular types of learning adventures include food and wine, history and culture, intergenerational, photography and walking.
NCC and Meadow Ridge
Norwalk Community College has long been committed to serving mature learners and understanding their unique needs. NCC hosts the Lifetime Learners, a 20-year-old nonprofit adult education organization offering lectures and courses on the NCC campus for learners over 50.
Norwalk Community College is one of only 17 colleges recently selected for the Plus 50 project. The Plus 50 Encore Completion Program is offered by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in cooperation with its member colleges and will ultimately comprise 100 colleges with special training programs for students age 50 and older.
In 2010, NCC launched an innovative partnership with Meadow Ridge to provide onsite courses for residents taught by NCC faculty. The partnership was made possible by the efforts of Lea Mintz, a Meadow Ridge resident and member of the Norwalk Community College Foundation board of directors, and is now in its 11th semester.
Three NCC classes are offered each semester, with two or three semesters a year. The classes are usually full at 25 residents in each class. The most popular classes are art history and a various history courses. Reading assignments are given but there is no homework or tests. Watch a video of Mintz discussing the program in our video gallery here.
Learn more by calling 1-866-370-7388 or filling out the form below.