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Continuing education appeals to seniors for many different reasons

June 24, 2013

Younger generations may balk at the idea of heading to school when they don't have to, but that's certainly not the case for older adults. A growing number of retirees are going back to college after leaving the workforce to take advantage of the benefits offered by continuing education, Kiplinger reports.

Seniors are returning to the classroom for a wide variety of reasons. Some may be looking to pursue a new degree in the hopes of embarking on an encore career, while others are simply interested in staying mentally and socially engaged after having retired. Whatever their reasons for taking classes, seniors who pursue lifelong learning opportunities are doing themselves a big favor by indulging their intellectual curiosity. 

"Retirement is a new experience, a reinvention of self," Leonie Gordon, director of the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, told the news source. "People are discovering talents, passions, curiosities they may not have known before."

There could also be considerable benefits for healthy aging, experts say. Specifically, mental activity may have a substantial impact on cognitive well-being, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers found that people who reported participating in intellectually stimulating activity were about 47 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease compared to those who did not. 

"Alzheimer's disease is the leading cause of dementia in older persons, and few modifiable risk factors have been identified," study author Dr Robert S. Wilson told ABC News. "Participation in cognitively stimulating activities (e.g., reading) has long been thought to reduce the likelihood that one will get Alzheimer's disease."

Schools have certainly noticed the trend. States including Wisconsin and Ohio, among others, require their public schools to offer adults 60 and older the chance to audit classes.