Journal: Linfelong Education: The Importance of a Curious Mind
Lifelong Education: The Importance of a Curious Mind
It used to be that the word education primarily conjured visions if school children all lined up in neat rows, learning their lessons from the months of September to June. As soon as people graduated from high school, they were off to work, to be married, and to start families. A few went on to college and obtained degrees that would, hopefully, serve them in their chosen careers. After graduation, education was a thing of the past, something only young people did except for the occasional on the job training a worker may have to take to stay current. That neat scenario of education is at least a couple of decades old, if not a couple of generations.
Now, children are learning their lessons year round in public, private or alternative schools or being home schooled. The majority of Americans graduate from high school and also go on to college. An undergraduate degree is no longer the primary ticket needed to get a good job. A graduate degree, work and life experience and a lot of extra curricular activities, like public service or volunteer work, are often required to obtain a highly placed position in a company. Education is an ongoing activity as people move through life because of technology updates, industry developments and career changes.
A recent study showed that rather than a simple linear step model of education, work and retirement which at least two generations of Americans experienced in the 20th century, currently people are experiencing a cyclical model of education, work, transition, education, work, transition, education, etc. throughout their working years. Many of the current generation of older Americans worked at one job for one company their entire career and then retired. Now, Americans are expected to change their jobs up to 10 times in their career years. This is especially true of younger people just entering the job market. The linear step model of life is no longer possible or even desirable by many young peoples standards.
One of the positive changes for education that has occurred is that the concept of lifelong learning has taken hold for many older Americans. Elderhostel, one of the most successful lifelong learning ventures in the world is entering its fourth decade of existence. Tens of thousands of people worldwide enroll in Elderhostels many educational offerings from wine making to classical studies to travel opportunities and more. There are even Elderhostel groupies who enroll in program after program every year with the same group of people. The programs are often on college campuses around the world and its a chance to relive college years for people who went to college or experience college life for the first time for people who didnt.
Here are some facts about lifelong education and older adults:
Lifelong education is also a concept that is applicable to persons with dementia. While studies have shown that it is unlikely for people diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease and related to dementia to learn new things in the same fashion as they have in the past, these individuals are able to learn in new and different ways. Routine often makes up for memory and new learning. When you reinforce a new pattern with a person with dementia through intensity and repetition, that person is sometimes able to learn something new like a floor plan of a new environment or the face of a new professional caregiver in the home. Here are some real life examples of this kind of learning:
Joseph is a seventy five year old retired engineer who was diagnosed with Alzheimers Disease two years ago. His wife, Agnes and he have been married for fifty-five years. They lived in the same house for fifty-three years of their marriage. Two years ago, just before Joseph was diagnosed with dementia, they moved to an apartment to be closer to their daughter and her family. Joseph had many problems negotiating his way around the new apartment initially. He would get up from a chair and not know which way to go for the bathroom or the kitchen. Now, after two years of living there, while his dementia has become more serious, he is able to negotiate his environment physically. If hes asked which way is the bathroom or kitchen, he is often not able to articulate that information but as soon as he gets up and starts walking to one or the other, he does find his way.
Darlene is an eighty eight year old woman diagnosed with Lewy Body dementia. This form of dementia is characterized by hallucinations and visions. Darlene often believes that she sees her mother who has been dead for over fifty years. Darlene is a retired school teacher and has always liked to read, do crossword puzzles and learn new things. Darlene has had in-home care for a number of years. In the beginning of her dementia, she was able to discern between the caregivers and know their names well. While the majority of caregivers have changed over the years, there are a couple who have remained constant. While Darlene does not remember their names anymore, she does respond to their faces and she is more easily cared for by these caregivers than new ones who just start out in her home. After a caregiver has been in her home a number of times and for an extended period, however, Darlene does respond to her or him more effectively.
More and more studies are showing that a persons natural curiosity for new information and knowledge may have a preventive effect for developing dementia in later life. A naturally curious mind throughout life can enhance a persons feelings of self esteem and well being. If you havent learned something new for awhile, September is the perfect month to enroll in an extended learning class at your local college or to peruse the Elderhostel catalogue at www.elderhostel.org. Lifelong learning is a good thing!
About the Columnist: Paul Takayanagi is a holistic gerontologist with a Masters degree in Gerontology from San Francisco State University. He has taught at San Francisco State University and at the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; Chabot Community College; and the Graduate Theological Union. He was also the Education Director of Alzheimers Services of the East Bay in Berkeley, California. He is an active member of the American Society on Aging and was recently a Chairperson for their Summer Series on Aging held in San Francisco in June 2003. You can visit Pauls web site at www.livingoveraging.com.
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