The old adage goes: use it or lose it. There is evidence that challenging your brain by learning new things can stave off the cognitive decline that can come with aging.
The New York Times reported that having money or good health insurance “paled in comparison” to education as a crucial factor in graceful aging. Researchers continue to find that people of any age who keep their minds engaged in active education live longer and delay memory loss and lethargy.
In an effort to keep their minds and memories sharp, some people read or work on crossword or Sudoku puzzles. In addition to free ways to work their brains, others are investing in computer-based brain fitness programs that focus on concentration and memory. The market for this software has grown from an estimated $100 million in 2005 to $225 million in revenues in 2007, according to a SharpBrains report, which estimates that the market will reach $2 billion by 2015 in the United States.
Today, more older adults are going back to school - and not just to maintain their cognitive skills. Surveys by AARP have found that continuing their education and being engaged in meaningful paid or unpaid work is an integral part of baby boomers’ retirement plans.
Faced with an ever-changing job market, older workers are returning to school to succeed in their fields and to begin new careers. Colleges and universities have begun developing programs for boomers to help them launch the next phase of their working lives.
According to the University Continuing Education Association, non-traditional students, those outside of the typical college age or structure comprise nearly 60 percent of all students at four-year public institutions and 50 percent at private colleges. Baby boomers represent nearly 20 percent of all students in higher education over the past decade, according to AARP surveys.
By state law, all Ohio residents age 60 and older may attend classes at state-funded colleges and universities at no cost. While different schools may call their programs by various names (e.g., Program 60, Senior Audit, 60-plus, SAGE, etc.), they all allow seniors to take college courses for free, with certain limitations:
They must audit the course and will receive no college credit for their participation.
Auditing students may not be allowed to participate in all aspects of the course (i.e., exams, labs).
Participation is limited to courses with available space and is usually subject to approval by the instructor.
Some costs may apply, such as textbooks, equipment, lab fees and parking.
Ongoing education is available outside of colleges as well. Lifelong Learning Institutes are community-based organizations of retirement-aged people, dedicated to meeting the educational interests of their members.
Approximately 400 senior centers in Ohio provide educational courses and programs on topics including arts, crafts, exercise, computer skills and more. And for the more adventurous, Elderhostel provides in-depth and behind-the-scenes experiences for almost every interest and ability. You can learn to paint on Nantucket; join a student orchestra; bike the rim of the Grand Canyon or conduct research to help protect endangered species.
You can find more information about opportunities to continue learning and growing at www.goldenbuckeye.com/families/learning.html.
You can also find information about volunteer opportunities and becoming more engaged in your community at www.goldenbuckeye.com/families/volunteer.html.