‘Use it or lose it: The benefits I’ve found in lifelong learning now I’m retired’

Feb 04, 2021
This community writer has revealed the health and economic benefits of lifelong learning. Source: Getty Images / Model released

I’m two years into my retirement and I love my life! I particularly love not having to get up to the sound of an alarm in the morning. Of course, that doesn’t mean I linger between the bed sheets. Indeed, I tend to be “up and at ’em”, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and ready to conquer the world at an early hour.

You see, retirement and my evolution as an empty nester means I am now free to pursue interests that fuel my passion and not just the interests of others. It’s been a long time since my needs came first for a variety of reasons.

When I started contemplating early retirement I was aware I needed to seek activities that would keep my mind active. I did some research online and enrolled in a couple of activities that I could participate in whilst reducing my employment hours. One was a book club meeting fortnightly at the local library, the other was a short study program offered online through the University of the Third Age (U3A). I didn’t know U3A offered online courses, but I’ve discovered they are perfect if you are socially distanced because of isolation, ill health, or are a carer.

These activities helped to prepare me for life without the structure of employment. It was then I felt comfortable throwing myself into other learning pursuits.

There are a number of positives to come out of including lifelong learning into your retirement. They include improving self-confidence and other personal qualities, strengthening your mental capabilities and wellbeing, meeting new people, and developing new hobbies and interests.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project, an American-based study undertaken between 1997 and 2005, tracked the cognitive activities of more than 1,200 participating seniors. It found that “an increase in cognitive activity in older adults slowed the decline of cognitive function and minimised the risk of cognitive impairment. Incredibly, the study showed that mentally active retirees were 2.6 times less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease than elders with less mental activity”.

Although I’d used computers at my workplace, technology and I hadn’t really ever been on friendly terms. My first “real” online study program was a free course on dementia run by the University of Tasmania. It was an interesting course and better prepared me for the rigours of online learning.

A friend, 20 years older than I am and with no prior computer knowledge, completed some basic online computer studies though Be Connected, a government initiative to help seniors navigate information technology. Two years down the track and she’s 10,000 words into her memoir.

There are so many options when you look at developing further skills and broadening your knowledge base. You can go down the path of learning about arts and crafts, undertake short courses of interest, or even embark on university study.

I am lucky to live in a neighbourhood with a community organisation catering to the needs of the older generation by providing inexpensive classes in guitar playing, Qui Gong, painting, and leatherwork to name just a few. If you’re not sure where to start looking, consider your local library or council website.

This year I’m studying something completely out of my comfort zone : an online art therapy program. It’s scary, but it gives me pleasure. I have also started blogging about books, attend a fortnightly literature workshop, and the Love Of My Life and I have a weekly Scrabble tournament, which is not for the faint of heart.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s very much a matter of “use it or lose it”!

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Have you taken on something new in retirement? Are you worried about dementia as you get older?

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