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Can Lifelong Learning Help As We Age?

Article by Psychology Today

“Can staying mentally active as we grow older help prevent cognitive and physical decline?

According to the Health Organization,  active aging is defined as “the process of optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life as people age.”   People can stay active throughout their lifespans by participating in social, cultural, economic, spiritual, and civic affairs. That can include paid and volunteer work as well as regular physical exercise.  From the WHO perspective, “health” includes physical, mental and social well-being and encourages older adults to stay as active as possible to extend healthy life expectancy.

But what about education? Although attending school used to be seen as age-based, i.e.,intended to prepare children and adolescents to become adults and begin a career,   that has been largely replaced by the newer idea of lifelong learning.   Instead of ending education at a specific age,  people are encouraged to continue learning throughout their lifetimes, whether on their own through self-directed learning or in adult education and continuing education classrooms.   To encourage that trend, many  European countries launched University of the Third Age (U3A) courses for older adults.   Beginning in 1973 in France, U3A programs have spread across much of the world and the sight of older adults attending classes along their younger classmates is becoming a familiar sight on many campuses.    Courses for older adults can range from humanities, social sciences, and even to more rigorous science and technology subjects.

Although the life-long learning trend is likely to continue as baby boomers age,  actual research showing the benefits of continuing education in older adults is still limited.     Gerontological research has shown that enriched learning environments can help reduce cognitive decline due to aging as well as helping older adults deal with depression and poor self-image although controlled studies of U3A students remain scarce.”

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