Lifelong learning is one of the keys to active aging, defined as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.” That’s according to the World Health Organization, which encourages older adults to stay active by participating in social, cultural, economic, spiritual and civic affairs in order to extend healthy life expectancies. In short: learn more to live better (and longer).
Health refers to physical, mental and social well-being. Activity is not just physical; it’s also cognitive. According to Psychology Today, gerontological research shows that enriched learning environments (formal academics or self-directed learning) help to reduce cognitive and emotional decline (including depression and poor self-image) due to aging. Conversely, reduced mental stimulation might lead to a decrease in cognitive functioning as people age.
There’s no need to leave learning behind once you graduate high school or college. When you stop learning, studies show you’re inviting mental stagnation and reduce the potential for exploration and growth. The good news? In Northeast Ohio, lifelong learning is an accessible alternative. Regardless of age, you don’t need to travel far to keep your mind and body engaged by pursuing knowledge and experience.
At Cuyahoga Community College’s Encore Senior Adult Program, manager Suzanne Ortiz says classes double as social gatherings. “It’s a great opportunity for friends to get together on a Friday afternoon on our eastern or western campus and learn about any topic they can think of: history, art, the sciences, exercise. …It’s an opportunity for them to get together and do what they’ve always wanted to do.”
CLASS WITH BENEFITS
Whether it’s learning to dance, speak a foreign language, gain computer skills, improve your golf swing or master a craft, encore education delivers real benefits for older adults by:
• keeping the mind sharp
• improving memory
• increasing self-confidence
• offering an inexpensive (or free) way to try something new
• gaining independence by learning to “do it yourself”
• offering a sense of accomplishment
• meeting like-minded people
• building upon existing skills
• learning a marketable skill or trade
Adult students are the nation’s fastest growing educational demographic, according to the U.S. Department of Education. To keep up with demand, agencies, organizations and higher education partners are offering high-quality credit and noncredit lifelong learning opportunities for older adults (also called continuing education or adult education).
All of Ohio’s state colleges and universities offer the over-60 learner the opportunity to attend classes at no cost, while many institutions and organizations provide an enhanced continuing education experience for older learners. If you’re 65 or older, investigate the social groups and lifelong learning options at your local senior center.
Regardless of age, look to community colleges, trade or technical schools, houses of worship, or community parks and recreation programs for enrichment classes. The Hudson Library and Historical Society, for example, offers free adult classes that range from deciphering cloud computing to learning how to play the ukulele to cooking with celebrity Chef Douglas Katz. The only requirement is to pre-register by phone or online.
Learning doesn’t have to be in a classroom environment, of course. Get plugged in to your local YMCA for experience-based learning, such as exercise classes or field trips with the YMCA of Greater Cleveland’s Active Older Adults program.
You can also check out Road Scholar Learning Adventures (roadscholar.org/roadscholar-experience). Formerly known as Elderhostel, this not-for-profit’s mission “is to inspire adults to learn, discover and travel. (The) learning adventures engage expert instructors, provide extraordinary access, and stimulate discourse and friendship among people for whom learning is the journey of a lifetime.”
Fend off your inner fuddy-duddy. Feed your desire to learn new things. Discover untapped passions and nurture them. Learning will fuel your curiosity, intellect and innate abilities, stretching your capacities beyond the constraints that (you thought) came with age. It’s never too late to learn and grow.