Irene only had one regret. She’d always wanted to learn to speak Italian but never had the money to take classes when she was young. She came close, once. After saving almost enough for an Italian class at her local university she found out she was pregnant with her first child. All of a sudden, Irene’s priorities changed and her dream of learning Italian and traveling to Italy faded into the background.
Having just turned 68 years old, Irene decided that now was her chance to do what she’d always wanted. So, with the help of her son, Louie, she found a local Italian language class offered through a local university, borrowed a beginner’s Italian textbook from her local library, and started studying. Sure enough, she fell in love with it. Irene hadn’t felt this alive and inspired in years and a spark ignited within her every time she learned a new word or phrase.
Following your passions and learning something new, be it a language or a new skill, can be truly transformational at any age. Luckily, there is a plethora of programs and resources available to aging adults to encourage lifelong learning. If your aging loved one has shown interest in taking a class, studying a subject that speaks to them, or even pursuing a degree or diploma, let’s explore some options for continuing education for seniors.
Exploring the Options: Continuing Education for Seniors
There has never been a time when learning has been more accessible for aging adults. An abundance of learning resources and opportunities are available to aging adults almost anywhere. For aging adults in rural or remote settings or who have difficulty leaving the home, online learning can be a great choice. And for adults in urban centers like the Bay Area, in-person continuing education classes and programs give them the opportunity to connect with other face-to-face.
So where do you begin with looking for lifelong learning opportunities for your aging loved one? After you’ve chatted with them about their passions and interests, all it takes is a little poking around the internet or community bulletin boards to find an appropriate program or class for your loved one. To make the search easier, though, here are a few places to start looking:
- Post-secondary Institutions: Many public colleges and universities offer reduced or free tuition for adults over the age of 55 or 60. While some schools allow seniors to pursue degrees, others open up space in classes for aging adults to audit. Continuing education departments usually offer an array of subjects, from photography to ancient history, so chances are that your loved one will find classes that will pique their interest. Attending classes at a college or university can also be a great way to connect with the younger generation. Plus, your aging loved one will bring a unique perspective and years of life experience to a classroom of young adult learners.
- Community Centers: Community centers typically offer a wide variety of programs for senior citizens, from Tai Chi classes to creative writing. These classes can be a great way for your loved one to meet like-minded adults while trying their hand at something new. Some programs also offer transportation for seniors to and from the facility where the classes are held. The best part is that the programs are usually very affordable—or even free! A quick Google search of senior’s community center classes in your area can lead to endless exciting options.
- Online Language Tools: Has your loved one always dreamed of learning Italian or brushing up on their Spanish? For aging adults who have difficulties leaving their home (or speak a language that isn’t commonly spoken in the area they live in), online language classes can be a perfect fit. Tandem is an online language tutoring portal that makes it easy to find a language tutor for just about any language you could imagine. Just make sure your loved one has a computer with access to the internet. If finances are a concern, your loved one can take advantage of free language apps like Duolingo or Fifty Languages.
Of course, learning doesn’t always have to be done formally through classes or online programs. If you can’t come up with something suitable for your aging loved one, encourage lifelong learning in other ways. Take them for a weekly library visit and help them pick out some new books, have a cooking night and learn how to make something new together, or arrange to have your artist friend teach them how to paint. The most important thing is to help your loved one become engaged and inspired in new ways.
The Advantages of Lifelong Learning
Not only will your loved one have a blast learning something new, they’ll be doing something incredible for their health. There are, in fact, many physical, mental, and emotional benefits of lifelong learning.
Keeping the brain active and interacting with others can effectively:
- Prevent the onset of dementia
- Sharpen alertness
- Stimulate new neural connections
- Promote socialization and human connection
- Improve memory function and cognition
No matter how you look at it, learning makes life richer, expands our minds, and keeps us mentally youthful and agile. As Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
For Irene, learning to speak Italian opened up her world in ways that she could have never foreseen. She began exploring the Italian neighborhood in her city, trying new Italian restaurants, and learning how to make new dishes like fresh pasta and risotto. At almost 70 years old, she felt as if she’d discovered a whole new world.
At Institute on Aging, we offer a variety of resources to aging adults so that they can live independently at home while staying connected to the community. To learn more about our Social Day Program or other programs, contact us today.