Never Too Late to Learn
The senior years are about staying sharp and spending your free time on what interests you. Local colleges and universities help level-up that learning while introducing students to others interested in the same topic.
Tulsa Community College offers non-credit, continuing education classes at a discount for students over 55. Offerings include topics such as do-it-yourself landscape design, photography and photo editing software, memoir writing, community band and orchestra. New courses begin regularly and vary in length.
“The feedback that we hear from our students is that taking classes offers the opportunity to continue challenging your mind and to meet people,” says Beth Wild, director of continuing education at TCC.
On the for-credit side of the institution, seniors over 65 can audit courses at a reduced cost, up to seven hours per semester and four hours during the summer. To begin, seniors must apply for admission and work with an academic advisor.
Oklahoma State University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute offers non-credit education, social and travel activities for adults 50-plus. The institute serves Oklahoma City, Stillwater, Bartlesville, Tulsa and the online community. There are 125 OLLI’s at higher education institutions nationwide, including one at the University of Oklahoma.
The membership-based organization offers participant classes on topics such as American and world histories, humanities, culture and language, healthy aging, fine arts, as well as hands-on courses like painting. Davis says this fall, OLLI is piloting a virtual book club and a dine-around group in Tulsa. OLLI members can also partake in day trips. Past outings have taken members to the Chickasaw Cultural Center in Sulphur and the circus cemetery in Hugo.
“Our members tend to be very happy to see each other and to socialize, and that’s a really strong part of OLLI,” says Robbin Davis, director at OSU’s program. Many OLLI members use the program to help keep the blues away, socialize if they live alone, or find respite from caring for an ailing spouse.
To Learn More:
OLLI’s fall session begins on Sept. 20. Call, email or go online at education.okstate.edu/outreach/osher-lifelong-learning-institute to learn more and enroll. Learn more about TCC’s Continuing Education offerings at tulsacc.edu/ce.
Keep Up with
The past year was a reminder of the vital nature of connection. But after being isolated, it’s tough to revamp those relationships.
“Staying connected to people you care about allows people to have a fulfilling, purpose-filled life,” says Jeromy Buchanan, director of community living, aging and protective services at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. “I think the more isolated people are, the more susceptible they are to mental health decline, abuse and neglect.”
OKDHS provides funding, oversight and monitoring for 11 area agencies on aging, which then connect local seniors to the resources and services they need. Congregate meals programs, which are offered in most counties across the state, provide free, nutritious meals and activities to residents 60 and over.
“The interaction and the connection that people get is just as important as the nutrition that they’re getting from the meal,” says Buchanan. “People love to come to those centers and meet and fellowship with other people.”
No matter the size of the city, getting connected with a local community center can provide opportunities to meet others who share similar interests. Oftentimes, local libraries curate lists of local resources, community exercise classes and learning opportunities.
Senior living communities help their residents stay connected, both to their personal goals and the community at-large. Covenant Living at Inverness offers small group, boutique classes, such as poetry reading groups, board game clubs and painting classes, as well as larger events that appeal to many residents, such as performances from Steinway pianists and presentations from local museum docents.
Jana Decker, the community’s director of wellness, emphasizes that it is essential to build a relationship with the individual, know who they are in that moment and meet them where they are. Getting to know them and making the invitation to get involved is important.
Building Community Abroad
For the adventurous, travel tours to destinations both domestic and abroad provide another way to build community through a shared experience. If booking hotels and coordinating flights feels daunting, set out on the adventure of your dreams by leaving the planning to the pros. Travel companies, like the London-based Martin Randall or the well-known American travel guru Rick Steves, offer planned and guided tours for all ages, but are especially suited for senior travelers.
Before heading out on your next great adventure, the CDC recommends visiting your doctor a month before your trip and packing prescription medications, plus a few extra days worth, in your carry-on luggage. Make sure to bring back-up hearing aid batteries or other essentials that could be hard to find. Rick Steves recommends bringing a small notebook or getting comfortable with your phone’s notes app to record important information, such as flight numbers, hotel room numbers and directions.
While travel insurance might feel unnecessary or expensive, it can be beneficial to senior adventurers. Make sure to explore your options and coverage before setting out. As you set or review your itinerary, be honest with yourself about any limitations you have and plan accordingly; there’s no reason to book lodging without an elevator if access to one would greatly improve your well-being and trip itself.
While travel destinations are a popular bucket list item, sometimes goals are more sentimental.
An octogenarian who resides at Covenant Living at Inverness hoped to put on his flight suit one last time. Instead of flying the plane, he wanted to jump from it. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the only resident interested in making the jump. Decker took a group from Covenant Living to go skydiving, and she says the resident’s flight suit still fits all these years later.
For most, living past 80 years of age is both an accomplishment and a permission slip to take it easy. Even so, it’s important to have big, audacious goals, no matter the amount of candles on your cake.
“Sometimes when we’re having conversations, they’re more legacy driven, which is great. We need to know about the past,” says Decker. “But we also need to be having aspirational conversations to find out what they want to still accomplish. It’s so important to have goals and to want to accomplish things.”
Other resident goals have included a former West Point boxer hoping to hit the bags again or visiting a working ranch to ride a horse. In both cases, Decker and the staff at Covenant Living helped them check off those bucket list items.