Benefits of and Opportunities for Lifelong LearningDecember 13, 2019
During the last 50 years, scientific and technological innovation has had profound effects on how learning is understood. Learning is no longer simply associated with a formal education in school or applied solely in the workplace. Instead, learning is now seen as something that takes place throughout our lives in our daily interactions with others and the world around us.
The saying ”use it or lose it” was once associated with physical fitness but has gradually expanded to include mental fitness. Engaging in lifelong learning stimulates our brains and has been shown to contribute to healthy aging and mental ability. Let’s take a look at why learning is so important as we age.
What is lifelong learning?
Instead of ending education at a specific age, people are now encouraged to continue learning throughout their lifetime, whether in adult education and continuing education classrooms or through their own self-directed learning.
Learning happens all the time, of course. Reading a book or completing crossword puzzles is considered informal lifelong learning. So in some ways, everyone is a lifelong learner. Most of all, lifelong learning is about creating and maintaining a positive attitude about learning. Basically, you’re a lifelong learner if you’re motivated to learn.
What are the benefits of lifelong learning?
It’s becoming recognized that an enriched, brain-stimulating environment, whether through formal programs or self-directed learning, has an important role in active aging and helping older adults compensate for cognitive decline.
One study with encouraging results took place as part of the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a study of more than 1,200 seniors who underwent cognitive testing for five years. The study showed that cognitively active elders, whose average age was 80, were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than those who were cognitively inactive.
That study also revealed 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.
Learning something new is also a great way to boost self-esteem. When you learn a new skill, you feel more confident in yourself, with a stronger sense of independence, which will keep you happy and healthy. Plus, when you decide to attend a class or lecture, or try a new hobby in a group setting, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people who share some common interests with you.
How do I do it?
There are endless opportunities to further your knowledge and develop new skills throughout life. Reading, creative writing, new hobbies, seeking unfamiliar points of view, problem-solving, and social interaction all exercise our minds. Take or teach a class. Work or volunteer. Learning new skills may improve your thinking ability, too. For example, one study found that older adults who learned quilting or digital photography had more memory improvement than those who only socialized or did less cognitively demanding activities.
Local senior centers and community centers are a great place to start if you want to learn a new skill. They usually have a wide variety of senior learning classes to choose from, covering everything from arts and languages to fitness and cooking. Many local universities also offer special senior learning tracks, with one-day courses, lectures, and even courses for university credits.
Lifelong learning at CCRCs
One of the many advantages of living in a senior living community such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC or Life Plan Community), is the array of activities and events offered to residents. At Essex Meadows, we emphasize providing a varied and stimulating range of lifelong learning opportunities (many of which are run by the residents themselves). From lectures and art talks to group documentary screenings and groups like drama, bridge and reading clubs, we look to provide residents with numerous ways to keep their minds active.
If you’d like to know more about Essex Meadows and see our full calendar of lifelong learning opportunities, contact us here. We’ll be in touch soon.