The pursuit of lifelong learning: benefits of education for retirees and seniors
The pursuit of lifelong learning may be a noble one, but it is much more than that. A myriad of scientific studies over the decades have demonstrated a strong correlation between continued, post-retirement education and cognitive well-being. Some suggest we can preserve our health while delaying or even eradicating the onset of ailments like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of continued education for retirees and seniors.
What happens when you retire?
Everyone’s retirement experience is unique. Whether you plan on travelling, volunteering, or helping out more with the grandchildren, there is no right or wrong way to retire. There are, however, a number of adverse side-effects associated with the post-work years.
Do keep in mind that many seniors experience a ‘honeymoon’ adjustment period of about 12 to 18 months after they leave the workforce. It isn’t until this period is over that the following experiences and emotions may set in.
If you’ve spent the last 40 years heading to a workplace every day, you’re accustomed to a high level of socialisation. What happens when that stops? When you are no longer a part of your work community?
This drastic shift in socialisation levels can lead to a sense of isolation, which has far-reaching impacts on overall well-being. One study found that the magnitude of social isolation is comparable to the known dangers of obesity and cigarette smoking. Further, social isolation can lead to depression and cognitive decline.
Reduced mental stimulation
Work can be mentally taxing. When you retire, your brain no longer gets the same sort of ‘mental workout’ it has done for years.
For many, retirement leads to fewer mentally engaging activities and a less stimulating daily environment. And this can result in earlier-onset cognitive decline.
Loss of self-worth and purpose
Bosses and employees have worth and purpose. They have goals and responsibilities. They feel accomplished when they do well. When you leave the workforce, you may find yourself experiencing a sense of aimlessness as you grapple with a sharp reduction in responsibility. Suddenly, your days have no perceivable purpose.
A loss of self-worth and purpose can reduce your inclination to engage in mentally and physically demanding activities and social occasions.
How continued education can help
The Rush Memory and Aging Project, a 2012 Chicago-based study, tracked the cognitive activities of more than 1,200 participating seniors. They found that an increase in cognitive activity in older adults slowed the decline of cognitive function and minimised the risk of cognitive impairment. Incredibly, the study showed that mentally active retirees were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than elders with less mental activity.
In short, ‘use it or lose it’ is the mantra for getting the most of your later years. And this is where continued education can help.
Continued education for seniors: what are your options?
The gift of retirement is time – so fill it with an activity that aligns with your passions while preserving your mental well-being.
When you start looking for a short course or even a university degree, you’ll find a plethora of engaging, motivating, and enlightening education options available. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Whatever piques your interest, you’ll find short courses that will deepen your knowledge and connect you with like-minded individuals. What’s more, because they generally run for less than 6-months, you can explore topics outside of your comfort zone. This may include:
- For the creative types, arts and crafts courses are ideal: consider things like pottery, photography, and drawing. Creative writing classes are another great option. Or, you might like to learn an instrument.
- For those interested in health, explore cooking classes, nutrition courses, or even a beginner’s yoga course.
- For those looking to improve their digital literacy, Tech Savvy Seniors is a government-funded program that provides digital training to seniors. Tafe also has a number of ‘for beginners’ courses that cover the basics of Excel, Photoshop, and other computer-based programs.
It’s never too late to enrol in a university degree – retirees have a unique and valuable perspective in class discussions. And, there are a number of flexible pathways you can take to secure a spot and graduate in the degree of your choice. You certainly don’t need to return to school full-time.
If it’s an undergraduate degree you’d like to take, you can pick from topics ranging from history and literature to mathematics and biology.
If you already have a university degree and extensive experience in your field, your retirement provides an excellent opportunity to achieve a post-graduate degree. This might be a Master or a Doctorate and will most likely include years of research and experimentation, as well as a lengthy thesis – it’s definitely a project that’ll keep your mind busy.
The joy of continued education
Protect your health, preserve your mind, and uncover a new passion with continued education. Remember, if you don’t use it you could lose it, so whether it’s a short course or higher education, get out your paint brushes, exercise gear or textbooks and get learning!