Engaging the Mind: Life-Long Learning & Combating Loneliness


Engaging the Mind: Life-Long Learning & Combating Loneliness

One of the biggest factors that will determine how quickly someone ages and their quality of life is loneliness and disengagement. For individuals with debilitating illness or physical impairments boredom and loneliness can be just as much of a health risk as high blood pressure, or lack of exercise. In the age of technology, life-long learning and engaging with others has never been more available to seniors.   

Life-Long Learning

Life-long learning is an incredible way to engage the mind. When we feed our curiosity, we keep our brains healthy, and continually shape our identity as we engage with topics, ideas, places, and people that are important to us. In the last ten years, online learning has exploded. Here are just a few sources for free and accessible learning:  

1. Pioneer Richard Saul Wurman created TED talks, where you can listen to thought leaders from around the world passionately share their ideas and experiences.

2. Thanks to iTunes- University, free online courses are available from a variety of reputable educational institutions such as Duke, Stanford, and Yale.

3. Seniors can also benefitting from other social learning networks like Einztein that make higher education and life-long learning possible and fun. 

4. Approximately 60% of accredited degree-granting educational institutions offer tuition waivers for the elderly according to a 2008 study done by the American Council on Education.

5. The University of Washington offers an “Access Program” that allows residents of Washington State that are 60+ to audit classes on a space-available basis for just $5. Speaking of the University of Washington, their Osher Lifelong Learning Institute  invites adults over 50 to come together to share intellectual interests and make new friends. Current and retired UW faculty and community experts lead workshops and special events. Annual Membership is $35.

6. Online games for keeping the mind sharp are readily available with sites like Luminosity or AARP games.  

7. Here in Tacoma, Franke Tobey Jones offers a Senior University that often partners with the University of Puget Sound to bring in guest lecturers and has periodically offered technology and social media classes to residents and the public free of charge. 

8. Local Libraries, such as the Tacoma Public Library, offer basic computer and internet training skills to the public.

9. Armchair travel can be another important form of life long-learning. From travel-blogs and audio books, to websites and videos like Rick Steve’s Europe, learning about new places and seeing how old favorite places have changed can be a mentally stimulating activity.

10. The library is an incredible source for accessing free books and resources. They work with companies to provide free digital and downloadable content including e-book and audiobook to library card holders.  Click on the following links to learn more about digital resources from local libraries: The Seattle Library or Tacoma Public Library

Social Seniors 

The social aspects of technology can open up a world of connection for those who are house bound or have limited mobility. As human beings we crave connection to family and friends, the world around us, and our own stories. Here are just a few examples of technology that is a tool of social interaction:

1. Video Calls using apps such as Skype can allow for elderly friends or siblings to talk face-to-face, which may be a luxury for the individual who is unable to travel.

2. Online music from iTunes, Pandora, Spotify offer a wealth of songs past and present.  Research by Harvard professor of psychology Ellen Langer, PhD. shows that experiencing music from our past can help our bodies and minds connect with an earlier version of ourselves. “Music is a cue, and if you listened to a specific song at a time when you were more vital, hearing it now can make you feel the way you felt back then.” Langer says. “The more we experience that vitality, the more we question whether we need to give it up as we get older.”

3. Online books are readily available with scalable font sizes and audio formats as well. A tablet device or eReader such as a iPad or Nook can be a fabulous investment in an aging loved one.    

4. Social Websites like Facebook and Meetup make it easier than ever to start senior groups that participate in activities together such as walks, museum trips, hobbies, storytelling circles, support groups and more. 


Published on May 29, 2013.