Empowering Seniors to Teach in the Bay Area: Activities to Improve Memory in Older Adults

mental concerns with agingThe Bay Area is a bustling place to live, whether you’re a young entrepreneur on the rise or an older adult settling into their retirement years. With all the activities available at one’s fingertips, there’s something to meet virtually anyone’s needs at any age. And one need, as we get older, is to work at maintaining and strengthening our memory, as over one-third of people over 70 experience memory loss of some kind. Thankfully, there are multiple approaches to mitigating this, readily accessible throughout the Bay Area. Teaching, for instance, is a great example: having the chance to impart wisdom and skills can be emotionally, mentally, and socially rewarding for anyone—and especially for older adults.

When you’ve spent years honing a special talent, or have an innate knack for certain skills, there’s nothing better than getting to share that with someone else. Watching that person grow in front of your eyes is equally uplifting, whether that student is a caregiver, a child, or youth in the community. Because while teaching is no easy task, it’s filled with benefits for both parties. So if your aging loved one is a whizz at math, loves to sew, or is the world’s best cook, chances are they’ll get a kick out of sharing their passion with you.

The Positive Impacts of Teaching for Older Adults

Caregivers give so much, day in and day out. This one-way energy exchange, however, can sometimes lead to older adults feeling inadequate, or resentful that they can’t give back in the same way. The constant energy required of caregivers, meanwhile, can cause undue stress or emotional drain. Having an aging loved one give back through teaching can help them feel empowered: just as caregivers provide older adults with much-needed support, aging loved ones have a lot to offer in return. It also offers caregivers a chance to be on the receiving end of things for a moment. Setting up skill-share sessions between caregivers and their loved ones can be mutually beneficial for all involved.

Increases agency and self-esteem

When a caregiver takes on the role of a student, relationship dynamics shift. Instead of receiving help, your loved one embodies a new position—that of teacher. While tapping into one’s talents and skill set helps to boost self-esteem, being listened to and respected for one’s abilities builds confidence. Your bond will also be strengthened by spending this type of quality time together. Of course, you can always switch it up for balance: a skillshare usually implies that two people take turns teaching each other new things.

Exercises the brain

Teaching another person isn’t just beneficial for self-esteem, but also for mental agility. After older adults retire, there’s often less incentive to keep their brains active. Teaching someone else provides motivation to get back in the saddle when it comes to thinking on your feet. In order to teach, your loved one will need to brush up on their skills, and possibly even learn more about their topic of choice. And research shows that people who teach gain a deeper understanding of the subject than those who only passively learn.

Encourages social activity

Teaching, by nature, is very social. Depending on your loved one’s preferences and personality type, they can just as easily teach one person or a group. Having an activity like this offers a simple way for your loved one to enjoy social interaction with a purpose. Scheduling an hour-long class intermittently will keep your loved one mentally stimulated and socially engaged on a regular basis. And if your loved one is looking to teach someone other than their caregiver, working with local youth offers a great alternative—and one that’s filled with benefits of its own.

Advantages of Intergenerational Skill Sharing

Teaching youth offers multiple rewards for your aging loved one and the young people alike. Studies over the years have shown the direct correlation between intergenerational programming—where youth and seniors spend time together—and improved outcomes for each group. When it comes to older adults aging in place, the benefits of socializing with children or teens are especially significant. One study showed that “older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less reliant on canes, and performed better on a memory test than their peers.”

Writer Erica Westly points out the energy exchange that happens when youth and older adults have a chance to spend time together: “Through social interactions alone, the young can pass some of their vigor on to the elderly, improving the older generation’s cognitive abilities and vascular health and even increasing their lifespan.” Meanwhile, the Legacy Project’s Susan V. Bosak shares other health benefits that come from these connections: “Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.”

Whether your aging loved one gets involved with teaching young people or their caregiver, they’ll no doubt experience numerous positive effects. There happen to be plenty of intergenerational programs throughout the Bay Area: for example, Ruth’s Table is a San Francisco-based arts nonprofit that connects older adults with younger people, and the SF public library offers intergenerational classes where your loved one can learn to use computers. And if you think they’d enjoy teaching more, try asking your loved one if there’s a particular skill they’d enjoy sharing with you, or youth in the community. You can start with informal lessons at home, between you and your loved one, or explore opportunities at local aging organizations. Not only will you learn something new, but you’ll also develop a deeper appreciation for your loved one’s experience and wisdom. It’s an activity that can benefit everyone.

To help your aging loved one get connected with even more beneficial programs and services, Institute on Aging offers a wealth of resources both online and in person. Don’t hesitate to get in touch today to find out more.


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Institute on Aging

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