Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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Comment Posted: 02/01/2009 03:24
|I missed this event because I also succumbed to a very nasty virus. However in the December edition of Adults Learning (NIACE) I came across an article on the Foresight report - Mental Capacity and Wellbeing. I have downloaded the report at http://www.foresight.gov.uk. It is massive so I homed in on the subject that particularly interests me - older people and the benefits of learning.
It states unequivocally The evidence shows that learning can help to protect against normal cognitive decline with age. It went on to point out that when people retire there is a marked drop in participation in educational activities, not helped by virtually no targeted funding. And yet excluding older adults from public-funded provision is a terrible waste both in terms of preserving independence and wellbeing, and utilising the mental capital of older adults. But exclusion will, in fact, add to long-term social work costs as the numbers of dependent older people increase.
Through my own investigations into cutting-edge neuroscience I have learned that the brains of older people who engage in mentally challenging pursuits build cognitive reserve. This gives their neural networks the resilience to operate normally despite having similar plaques and tangles to someone with dementia. Read The Mature Mind by Gene Cohen, Director of the Centre on Ageing, Washington, for a real eye-opener into building cognitive reserve, emotional growth and wisdom in later life.
This mental stimulation, combined with aerobic exercise that switches on the genes that create new brain cells (neurogenesis), challenges the belief that learning for older adults is a waste of time. It is, in fact, crucial to maintaining brain function along with exercise, a healthy diet, social contact and a purposeful life. These reflect the five a day ideas for wellbeing of your first speaker Nic Marks.
Just as the tremendous benefits of pre-school education are universally acknowledged, so hopefully the time will come when older adults themselves begin to appreciate the difference it can make to the quality of later life to continue to challenge their brains and that they themselves start to campaign for affordable learning activities. To be able to achieve this change in society much work needs to be done to reverse the endemic negative stereotyping of older people which has such a damaging effect on their own self-image and the ability to envisage a thriving old age.
Val Bissland, Learning in Later Life Tutor, Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Strrathclyde
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