Lifelong Learning for Seniors

Last Updated : 10/03/20194 min read

If you’re retired, that doesn’t mean you can’t still exercise your mind. Lifelong learning can have great benefits for seniors, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Stanford Center on Longevity reports that seniors in the United States are showing less cognitive (thinking, learning, and remembering) decline overall than past generations.

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That’s promising news – could lifelong learning help you stay sharp?

What is lifelong learning?

Lifelong learning refers to the concept of gaining knowledge throughout life, especially through educational and training materials, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

NBC News reported in 2014 that more older Americans are going back to school to pursue lifelong learning. One woman graduated at age 99 after going to school for six years, reported the Harvard Business Review.

But lifelong learning doesn’t have to involve going back to school. There are plenty of programs available online, notes the Harvard Business Review. And many communities have continuing education programs – as well as classes available through senior centers or libraries.

How might lifelong learning help seniors?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reported that a study found that learning new and perhaps challenging skills might benefit your brain. Participants generally did well learning new tasks and could still perform these tasks well even after several years had passed.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how lifelong learning and educational activities help the brain. The NIH says that learning might help the brain adapt to compensate for age-related changes.

The Huffington Post reported on a Harvard study that found a possible relationship between your thinking and reasoning abilities and how long you went to school. People who grew up in states where students have to go to school for the longest periods of time seemed to have the highest overall cognitive function, regardless of income level, the study reported.

How can I find lifelong learning opportunities for seniors in my community?

You might try:

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  • Your community’s Council on Aging or senior center
  • A community organization such as the YMCA
  • Your local library (ask if they know about any classes for seniors, whether in the library or elsewhere in the area)

It may also interest you to know:

  • Road Scholar works with “Lifelong Learning Institutes” nationwide. The not-for-profit organization lists educational travel and course information on its website.
  • com lists some universities and colleges that may let you audit a course for free (you generally don’t get course credits, but can listen to the lectures).

Are there lifelong learning apps or other products?

There are lifelong learning products available online. The Stanford Center on Longevity notes that while certain software-based lifelong learning tools appear to boost cognitive skills in seniors, lifelong learning has not been proven to improve short-term memory.

The Stanford Center on Longevity (“the Center”) cautions that there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease (a form of dementia), nor is there a sure way to prevent it. So, you might want to think twice before spending any money on a lifelong learning app or software that claims to prevent or cure Alzheimer’s. The Center suggests that you research lifelong learning products before buying them, looking for independent studies that can back up a product’s claims.

Some Medicare Advantage plans may include ways to help you stay physically active to go along with your efforts to stay mentally active. I can tell you about Medicare Advantage plans in your area that might include fitness programs.

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