I had an interesting thought this week while reading “Learning and Change” by Mark Tennant (Tennant, “Learning and Change: A Developmental Perspective, Jossey-Bass, 1995). I found I am fascinated with aging and the whole cognitive process. The study of WAIS – Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale was particularly interesting.
This comes to light over the last few months when by sisters and I learned our 85 year-old Aunt has onset Alzheimer’s. We were flummoxed to discover that this brilliant self-taught NY intellectual, who could complete the NY Times crossword puzzle, who is knowledgeable in art history and classical music, who is well read and a political activist and who was once the deputy commissioner of NY housing commission, not only forgets her keys, but also gets lost in her own neighborhood.
That said, it has interested me that life-long learning is a process. Research shows that there is a natural decline in intelligence with age, but with training and learning, the process can be somewhat reversed. Tenant sites some well documented studies that there are shortcomings to standard tests including social and cultural bias. (Tennant pg 17).
Our town library has a wonderful life-long learning program in conjunction with Framingham State University where professors come to the library and lecture on a myriad of topics. My husband and I have seen topics on the Civil War, migration of New England birds, architectural details of Rome and Dennis Lehane’s mystery books. With all that, I am amazed at the wide scope of expertise the lectures provide, but the interaction among the participants (mostly older folk) is amazing. Although I am many years from retirement, it is a true testament that there are life-long learning programs offered at libraries, assisted living facilities, universities and museums.
We may lose our computational skills (I never had mathematical prowess), but it’s the accumulated life experiences that matter (Tennant, pg 34).
Back to my Aunt. She’s wonderfully active, lucid and agile; it’s just that things get muddled. Taking advantage of life-long learning activities (either as a participant or as a leader) would be good to instill cognitive skills – and even pleasure.