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Expand your horizons: how to keep learning in older age

18th October 2018


The passage of time doesn’t have to halt the learning process. Attaining new information and picking up new skills isn’t only for the young or a school setting. With the extra time afforded to older people in retirement, this can be the perfect opportunity to continue developing the mind and to add more strings to your proverbial bow. There’s no reason why those with mobility issues and those who get by with the use of indoor stair lifts can’t continue to learn and grow as individuals. This guide will look at how those willing can expand their horizons and how they can keep learning in older age.

Learn a new skill


Learning isn’t all about theoretical knowledge or memorising facts, learning also includes practical skills that can be obtained. A wonderful way to keep the mind stimulated and healthy as a person grows old is by picking up a new skill or hobby. By focusing the mind on the attainment of a skill, such as a musical instrument or painting, can not only be tremendous fun but incredibly rewarding. The individual won’t just have obtained a valuable new skill that they can enjoy for many years to come but the process of practising and learning the ability to be able to perform the skill will surely come with a great level of satisfaction. This new skill can be anything that one finds appealing, something outside the box or something that you’ve always wanted to try. It’s never too late to learn!

Join a reading group

Reading is a wonderful way to learn and involves very little effort on behalf of the reader. However, some people can struggle for motivation or might not know what to read. A wonderful way to circumnavigate this issue is by joining a book club or reading group. These groups are made up of eager readers who either gather together in person (or connect online) and discuss a book they have all chosen to read. Not only is this a great way to meet new people but it can make reading an even more educational process, as discussing what you have read with someone helps the reader to think about what they have consumed and for the information to sink in.

Reading Groups for Everyone is a website where such groups can be discovered up and down the country. Reading Groups for Everyone, run by The Reading Agency, is also launching a new programme called Reading Friends, purposely designed with older people in mind, helping to tackle loneliness due to the programme’s social nature and having the added benefit of encouraging reading/learning. Speaking about the programme, the Reading Agency said:

“Reading Friends is a nationwide programme developed by The Reading Agency and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. The programme has been developed with older people and is delivered by volunteers. By sharing stories in groups or one to one sessions, Reading Friends empowers and engages older people who are vulnerable and isolated, including people with dementia and carers. In an initial evaluation, 88 per cent of Reading Friends either agreed or strongly agreed that Reading Friends added purpose to their week.

“One of our Reading Friends participants said: ‘Human contact is the important thing – I enjoy my Reading Partner coming to see me.’”

Pick a topic and start researching


Wanting to continue to learn in older age is a wonderful thing and full of benefits for the mind, but it can be difficult to choose an area of focus and some people struggle when trying to take on too much new information at once. A great way for a person to approach learning in older age, and really at any point in life, would be to pick a topic that interests them and make that the focus of their research. Finding something stimulating, something that excites and enthrals, and then become ensconced in that subject, will be far more beneficial than using a scatter gun approach, trying to master myriad topics at once. Once that subject has been mastered or taken as far as the learner is willing, then branch off to other topics, perhaps to ones that have stemmed from the first.

Take a class

Learning doesn’t have to be a solitary exercise either. Hiding away at home and trying to master a topic, skill, or subject all by one’s self will work for some but not for others. Why not consider taking a class in baking, pottery, photography or whatever else seems alluring. Local communities, colleges, and arts centres will be able to offer all kinds of exciting and interesting classes that will be perfect for the older person wanting to learn something new. Browse online, ask a friend, see what’s about and what might be appealing. Not only will this be a great way to learn and perhaps be more motivational than toughing it alone, but also the social aspect will certainly bring concomitant benefits.

Improve your memory to help with learning


Many of us like to learn but struggle with retaining the information obtained, often due to poor memories. Memory retention can become worse with older age and therefore present an obstacle to learning new things. So, deciding to take steps to improves one’s memory would be an excellent idea. This can be done in a number of ways, such as through brain and memory exercises, or simply through the act of reading and writing. A 2013 study in the Neurology journal found that writing and reading help stave off memory issues. So, for those struggling to remember interesting facts, make sure to read plenty of books and consider writing in a journal or diary to keep your memory in top shape.

Read by listening

Reading is the most obvious form of obtaining new information about real-life events or discovering more of the world via fiction. However, some people just aren’t able to read as they get older due to poor eyesight and other ailments. But just because one can’t physically read doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy a good book. Audiobooks – books read aloud and recorded for listening – are a wonderful way to discover the literature of the world. Most of today’s leading volumes are recorded as audiobooks and a number of classics have also received the same treatment. Audible, Amazon’s audiobook company, is a great avenue for this. Simply purchase an audiobook, download the audio to your computer, phone, or tablet; sit back, and enjoy the experience of reading without any of the effort!

Take notes when reading


One trick that even the world’s brightest minds utilise to retain the information they read is by taking notes along the way. If one simply reads a book and then moves on, there is a good chance that they will remember only a fraction of the book and very little of the fascinating information located inside. This is certainly a shame but can be avoided by simply taking notes as you work your way through a book. Either on a notepad or in the book itself, try writing down interesting information as you go or at the end of a chapter, this will not only help the information sink in but will be a valuable reminder to turn back to in the future. Also try summarising the book upon competition, writing down what the book has to say to see how much has been remembered.

Tips for learning in older age

Learning doesn’t have to be a young person’s game, continue to grow, develop, and expand the mind in whichever way is most appealing. There is so much knowledge to be obtained! Use the tips above (repeated briefly below) to understand how to keep learning in older age:

  • Learn a new skill
  • Join a book club
  • Pick a topic and start researching
  • Take a class
  • Improve your memory to help with learning
  • Read by listening
  • Take notes when reading

This news article is from Handicare UK. Articles that appear on this website are for information purposes only.