One of the most under-utilized ways to spend retirement is getting an education. Caregivers and family members do well to encourage seniors to engage in lifelong learning for a multitude of reasons. The benefits are great but often overlooked.
Continuing education for seniors may be in addition to previous education or be the first time a senior is aiming for a post-high-school degree. Regardless of the level of education attained or sought, learning is an incredibly valuable way for seniors to make their retirement years count.
Continuing education can help fight off cognitive decline. Researchers Rohwedder and Willis noted that retiring early (in the person's early 60s) has an especially deleterious cognitive effect. In fact, early retirement is associated with a reduction in memory of almost 5 points on a scale of 20.
Retirement tends to disconnect and isolate seniors from society, and it is mostly this disengagement that leads to cognitive decline and other health detriments. In fact, researchers Steptoe, Shankar, Demakakos and Wardle have found have found that mortality rates in older men and women go up among those who are socially isolated. What is more, socially isolated seniors have increased risk rates for cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, and they exhibit stronger physiological reactions to stress. By returning to school after retirement and adding to their knowledge, seniors can interact with people, which can also help deflect depression and anxiety.
Many colleges or universities are offering online education...
Beyond the social value of seniors getting an education, there is a personal value, and in many ways it is connected to how learning is done and connected today. Many colleges or universities are offering online education, which helps seniors who have some limited mobility or who may not want to or be able to commute to and from a college. Online learning will also teach them how to better navigate the Internet and use technology, which is a topic of much excitement among researchers who care for older people. This technology can help them connect to an even broader spectrum of people, and it makes learning more accessible to greater numbers of seniors.
Funding a College Education
The primary difficulty for many seniors in getting an education after retirement is simple: the price tag. College is notoriously difficult to finance nowadays, with millennials famously racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans just trying to attain bachelor's degrees in order to compete for entry-level jobs. There are ways around that, however.
There are places where seniors can take classes for free, or almost free. According to U.S. News & World Report, 60% of educational institutions that are accredited will give tuition waivers to older adults. These are highly underutilized programs. Essentially, universities and colleges are just waiting for older adults to fill out a form and more than half of them will give that senior an education completely tuition-free. Sometimes seniors will have to wait on availability in a given program or obtain special permission from professors, but this is not as daunting as it may seem! Most academics are eager to share their knowledge and would love for older adults to join the classroom. Seniors should not be afraid to reach out to colleges and universities for more information.
All in all, continuing one's education after retirement is full of positives and options just waiting for the bright minds of seniors across America to join in the academic study of whatever they find interesting. If a senior is interested in continuing their education, family members and caregivers may consult with their local state university and ask about how to do so.
Brandon, Emily. Forget Tuition: How Retirees Can Attend College for Free. U.S. News & World Report (April 20, 2009). Available at http://money.usnews.com/money/articles/2009/04/20/forget-tuition-how-retirees-can-attend-college-for-free. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
Campbell, Erin York & Waite, Linda J. (March 2009). Social Disconnectedness, Perceived Isolation, and Health Among Older Adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1): 31-48. Available online at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2756979/#R32. Retrieved April 12, 2016.
Online Colleges. Making the Most of the Golden Years: Online college for senior citizens. Available at http://www.onlinecolleges.net/making-golden-years-online-college-senior-citizens/. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
Steptoe, Andrew, Shankar, Aparna, Demakakos, Panayotes, & Wardle, Jane. (2009). Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, 110(15): 5797-5801. Doi: 10.1073/pnas.1219686110. Available online at http://www.pnas.org/content/110/15/5797.full.Retrieved April 12, 2016.
Rohwedder, Susann, Willis, Robert J. (2010). Mental retirement. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24(1): pp. 119-138. Available online through the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958696/. Retrieved april 12, 2016.