You’re never too old to learn: How do you keep the elderly challenged?

The Oud Geleerd Jong Gedaan Foundation has been organizing interactive lectures for seniors since 2014, given by enthusiastic student teachers at various locations in the Netherlands. Enny van Arkel and Ilse Nieuwland are the proud founders and directors of the foundation. They strive for a society in which lifelong learning is the norm for everyone.

Mentally challenging the elderly to promote well-being
It is important to actively (and meaningfully) involve older people in society because mental capacity is a precondition for the well-being of these people. Those who remain active socially, emotionally and cognitively experience an increase in well-being and a decrease in psychological complaints. Too often the elderly are placed on the sidelines and are not challenged cognitively. This puts them sidelined because you no longer challenge them mentally. Then you indirectly also stimulate the decline of the brain (what you don’t use, you lose that). When the elderly are mentally challenged, they have little (or minimal) deterioration in thinking and learning.

“The brains of old people want to be challenged to do new things. Challenge, do new things, make people enthusiastic, actively contribute ideas, that’s just great for the brain” – Erik Scherder (ambassador) about Stichting Oud Geleerd Jong Gedaan

The origin of Old Learned Young Done
During a summer job in care for the elderly, Enny van Arkel and Ilse Nieuwland saw that there are many stigmas surrounding ‘elderly’ and ‘aging’. They saw that the welfare offer in most locations did not match the wishes of all residents. The elderly had the need to be challenged and to learn new things together with others. Enny and Ilse then came up with the idea of ​​linking students to the elderly and then having them give lectures. Young students share the knowledge they gain at HBO or university with eager to learn seniors. There were few activities for the elderly that brought young and old together, so this was completely new. This is how the Old Learned Jong Gedaan Foundation was established. Enny van Arkel: “Our activities are cognitively challenging and connect generations through knowledge sharing. Because personal growth does not depend on age. We strive for a society in which lifelong learning is the norm for everyone.”

Bringing students and the elderly together
For students it is nice to gain relevant work experience and to come into contact with the elderly. Ilse Nieuwland: “Because the lectures are interactive in nature, the students learn from the participants’ life experiences. They also improve their presentation skills and gain relevant volunteer work experience for their resume. They also learn to approach their field from different angles and they come to all kinds of places where they would otherwise not quickly cross the threshold, which makes it a very instructive experience.” Meanwhile, the Oud Geleerd Jong Gedaan Foundation is used annually by tens of thousands of seniors and hundreds of students across the country to cognitively challenge the elderly with activities. Enny van Arkel: “Connecting generations through knowledge, that is our strength. Students are also regularly surprised by the seniors. For example, recently there was a participant in an art history class who was so grateful for everything the student had told her that she decided to make a painting for this student. Those kinds of things are of course heartwarming.”

They also see this impact in the response students sometimes get from families. Ilse Nieuwland: “As an organization we have sometimes been invited to attend a participant’s funeral. This participant has been attending lectures every week for five years and has benefited greatly from it. It’s really special to get this back from family members.”

New courses every month: Online Academy Seniors Education
Due to the corona crisis, the interactive senior lectures that took place physically, at, among others, care and welfare organizations and/or in libraries, were largely canceled. Enny and Ilse then went to see what was possible. In collaboration with SkillsTown, they started the Online Academy for Seniors Education (OASE).

Ilse Nieuwland: “The Online Academy for Seniors Education is an online learning environment for seniors where they can enjoy unlimited lectures, guided tours and courses, developed by the students of Stichting Oud Geleerd Jong Gedaan”. Every month new courses are posted on OASE, on art and culture, history, languages ​​and personal development.

Enny van Arkel: “The knowledge that the seniors acquire is new topic of conversation for contact with family members, friends or other acquaintances. We encourage people over 60 to continue learning throughout their lives. By connecting them digitally, we aim to remove feelings of loneliness. And we believe that providing cognitive challenges helps to slow down mental decline.”

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