Lessons in Lifelong Learning

Happy mature older woman video calling on laptop working from home

“Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death,” said Albert Einstein.

In Einsten’s day, the word “student” conjured images of young people sitting in rigid rows of desks, begrudging homework and preparing to become adults.

Today, we know senior citizens to be some of the most active, eager students. They are free to learn on their own terms, at their own pace, and they don’t have to worry about tests or essays (unless they choose to!).

Almost half of the adult population in the U.S. is involved in some sort of lifelong learning program, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. A study conducted for AARP revealed that 90 percent of surveyed adults aged 50 and above planned to continue actively learning as they grow older.

Senior learners are reading and deciphering brain teasers, joining study groups, taking courses at public libraries and major universities, visiting museums, traveling, volunteering, as well as enrolling in the countless online educational programs that have grown exponentially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

While humankind has thirsted for knowledge since the beginning of time, the formal concept of lifelong learning was established in the early 1970s by three international organizations. Most notable was UNESCO, whose Faure Report debuted in 1972. This influential document wisely posed that lifelong education is freeing and transformative for all of society.

An ever-growing segment of society is the Baby Boomer generation, estimated to number 61 million by 2030. The benefits of continuous learning for older adults are many – and compelling.

Brain Power

Lifelong learning is a key defense against memory impairment and cognitive decline. In fact, numerous neuroscientific studies confirm that continuous learning literally strengthens the brain by stimulating synaptic complexity and the growth of nervous tissue. One study followed 100 elderly adults for a period of 14 years, concluding that lifelong learning builds up “cognitive reserve,” thereby minimizing the risk of detrimental changes in the brain.

Body Boost

A lot of the new things older adults are doing involve physical activity, such asyoga, dance, various arts and crafts, onsite tours that require walking, etc. In addition to boosting gray matter, many learning experiences improve cardiopulmonary function, fine and gross motor skills, muscle strength and mobility, balance, immune defense, and more.

Confidence and Self-Esteem

With careers over and associated responsibilities reduced, seniors can struggle to feel as self-assured and useful as they once did. In addition to physical and cognitive advantages, learning new things throughout life – or revisiting past pursuits – reaps tremendous emotional rewards. Continuous learning fosters a sense of engagement and connection with the outside world as well as relevance and purpose.

Social Connections

Many educational experiences expose participants to other people, sparking new friendships along the way. While onsite programs, travel and tours are currently limited because of COVID-19, videoconferencing technology allows seniors to remain connected with others as they learn, all from the safety of home. New information, skills and experiences can also pave the way for interesting conversations.

Financial Breaks

Senior citizens can “go back to school” at greatly reduced prices, sometimes at no cost. Even before the pandemic, online learning was trending among students of all ages and is a much more affordable option than a traditional in-class setting. For older adults, tuition is often discounted or waived, especially online. Several major universities, including Penn State, offer tuition waivers on educational programs for people aged 60 and above. In addition, tax breaks, incentives and numerous discounted programs are abound for seniors seeking lifelong learning. Here’s a good place to begin exploring.

Lifelong Learning at Barclay Friends

One of the core values of the Barclay Friends family is continuous learning. An emphasis on learning at every stage of life is incorporated in everything we do, at every level of care. We are especially excited about our recent subscription to One Day University, where residents can learn online about a broad variety of fascinating topics, all led by leading college professors!

Our new building is open and accepting applications!

Discover how a lifetime of learning can benefit you or a loved one!