For as long as she could remember, Celia had loved school. During her teens, she was a straight-A student who excelled in almost every course. Listening to lectures, participating in class, and helping others—all of these aspects of a classroom were exciting to her. It’s not surprising, then, that she went on to pursue more academia; majoring in English at college, and then going to grad school was a natural next step. In her later career as a professor at a local university, Celia reveled in sharing her passion for English with her younger students.
But as the years passed, her life slowly changed. Celia watched her own kids grow up, and soon after, she retired from teaching. By the time she was celebrating her 70th birthday, it’d been over 5 years since she’d put much energy into learning something new. Her daughter Layla saw that her mom’s spark had grown a little dimmer. At the time, Layla was surveying a few literature classes at SFU, and invited Celia to an open house lecture. Sitting in a classroom that day ignited something inside Celia—hanging on the speaker’s every word, her mind raced with new ideas. She felt more mentally focused than she had in ages. In the coming weeks, she registered to join the course, and soon became a vocal proponent of lifelong learning.
The Many Inspiring Benefits of Lifelong Learning
A way of life that enhances mental agility and passion in older adults, lifelong learning is as much a state of mind as anything else. We all know that certain challenges inevitably arise during the aging process: our bodies tire more quickly, aches and pains come out of nowhere, and our minds slow down. But like 83-year-old dancer and lifelong learner Carmen De Lavallade says: “You lose something and you gain something. If you don’t have those challenges, the brain is not challenged, and the body is not challenged. My whole thing is, how far can I go?”
For older adults seeking a higher quality of life, embracing lifelong learning is a great way to improve memory, kickstart motivation, and get the most out of their day-to-day experience. It’s not for nothing that experts suggest that “good memory is actually good learning.” Memory can be enhanced through the simple act of having to remember new things on a regular basis. In addition, learning can help older adults bounce back more quickly from early memory loss. One MacArthur study found that older adults’ mental fitness was correlated to their ongoing amount of mental activity and level of education.
Whether your aging loved one has regrets over never finishing school, or simply wants to discover more about a particular subject, there’s no limit to the range of topics they can begin sinking their teeth into. There are physical activities like Tai Chi and dance; cerebral classes like film studies and physics; or a gamut of languages that your loved one can start to learn. Lifelong learning also tends to increase an aging adult’s level of social activity, which helps decrease depression and isolation. And acquiring a new skill not only keeps the brain fit—it boosts confidence too! No matter what they’re interested in, lifelong learning encourages older adults to follow their passions at any age.
Lifelong Learning in the Bay Area
There are multiple lifelong learning resources available online, as well as in person throughout the Bay Area. Whether your loved one engages in courses digitally or in real life, they’ll undoubtedly gain a lot from any of these worthwhile programs.
The California State University (East Bay) offers adults over 60 the chance to pursue their degree of choice. Practically all tuition fees are waived, including the application fee. They must be California residents to qualify, however.
This is a great option for older adults not wanting to pursue an entire degree, but still participate in educational classes on a regular basis. BAS offers a range of programs geared toward adults over 55, though anyone over 18 is able to join. Classes include everything from contemporary film and world affairs to ceramics, drawing, and Thai Chi.
With classes, discussion groups, day tours, and social events, this center is a one-stop shop for lifelong learning in the Bay Area. They provide a wide variety of classes on fascinating subjects including American history, the universe, and art. Signing up for one is also a great way to meet like-minded older adults in the area.
Older adults who want to improve their physical fitness will love VAS’s selection of classes. Courses are divided between beginner, intermediate, and advanced, ensuring that your loved one is placed in the best level for them. Programs like Fitness for Fun, Young at Heart, and Strong & Flexible are focused on enjoying yourself first and foremost.
San Francisco State University’s Elder College Program lets people over 50 enroll in their courses for just $55 per semester—much cheaper than regular tuition. This is a great opportunity for older adults to be immersed in an academically stimulating environment at an affordable price.
Diving into lifelong learning is a wonderful chance for your aging loved one to experience a renewed sense of purpose and passion for life. Connecting with the world around us and improving our own set of skills are some of the best motivators for getting up in the morning. It’ll give your loved one something exciting to talk about at the dinner table, and to contemplate before going to bed. Most of all, embracing lifelong learning can help your loved one experience in practice—like dancer Carmen De Lavallade—just how far they can really go.
For caregivers and families wanting to ensure the best support for their aging loved ones, Institute on Aging here to help. Connect with us today to learn more about our resources and programs.