Just as we need to move our bodies in order to stay healthy and fit as we age, we also must keep our minds active. This is one of the reasons that many continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs or life plan communities) offer an array of lifelong learning opportunities to their residents — sometimes even partnering with a nearby college or university to offer classes. In fact, one unique program actively encourages universities to open their classrooms to seniors.
The Age-Friendly University global network
The Age-Friendly University (AFU) global network was originally launched in 2012 by then-Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny. The goal was to get institutions of higher learning around the world to focus on ways to become more age-friendly in their programs and policies, with a special focus on aging populations.
Schools within the AFU network agree to adhere to 10 principles:
- They encourage the participation of older adults in all the core activities of the university. This includes educational and research programs.
- They promote personal and career development in the second half of life and support people who would like to pursue a second career.
- They recognize the broad range of educational needs of older adults. This includes those who left school early and would like to complete their bachelor’s degree, as well as those who wish to pursue an advanced degree such as a master’s or Ph.D.
- They promote intergenerational learning, encouraging sharing of expertise between students of all ages.
- They seek to increase access to online educational opportunities for older adults to facilitate an array of avenues to participation.
- They develop a research agenda for their school that is informed by the needs of an aging population, and they encourage dialogue on how higher education can better respond to the various interests and needs of older people.
- They strive to increase their students’ understanding of the “longevity dividend,” as well as the value that older people bring to our communities.
- They facilitate older adults’ access to their university’s health and wellness programs, as well as arts and cultural activities.
- They actively engage with retired members of the nearby community.
- They collaborate with other organizations that represent the interests of the aging population.
An emphasis on lifelong learning
There are currently around 100 universities in the AFU network — located in Ireland, the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and more — and that number is constantly growing. One such school is Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts, just 10 miles west of Boston.
Lasell University shares its campus footprint with Lasell Village, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community). Lasell Village offers its residents many of the services and amenities you’d expect to find in a CCRC: dining venues, a fitness center and indoor pool, social activities, and of course a continuum of on-site care services if needed. But what sets Lasell Village apart from many other CCRCs is its steadfast commitment to lifelong learning.
Lasell Village was one of the first senior living communities in the nation to require all of its residents to commit to 450 hours per year of continuing education classes and programs. These hours can be fulfilled by taking courses at Lasell University or attending programs on the Lasell Village campus.
Benefits for residents and students alike
The symbiotic relationship between the university and Lasell Village extends beyond the classroom. For instance, village residents are welcome to take advantage of the university’s library and other facilities. For its part, Lasell Village is the top employer for the university’s students who work in dining services, as lifeguards, as nursing assistants, and in various internships.
What may be most valuable for both the CCRC residents and the college students, however, is the opportunity to form intergenerational bonds. These connections benefit the students, giving them access to a friend who can offer the guidance and advice that comes with life experience.
For the village residents, these intergenerational friendships can result in improved physical and mental wellbeing, better cognitive function, and can abate social isolation.
Nurturing mind and spirit
In last week’s blog post, we talked about how making friends can be more difficult as we grow older. CCRCs and other senior living communities provide their residents with a number of channels to make new friends and foster existing friendships.
Initiatives like the Age-Friendly University global network, and partnerships between universities and senior living communities, like Lasell University and Lasell Village, take this a step further, offering seniors a path for finding new friends of all ages with shared interests, while also providing seniors with opportunities to make learning a lifelong endeavor. That combination is beneficial for a senior’s mind and their spirit.
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