Mady Rubenstein of Syracuse, New York, wasn’t ready to retire when surgery forced her to leave her bookkeeping job. She hated the idea of having nothing to do, so when a friend told her about Oasis and the wide array of activities offered, she couldn’t wait to check it out. Before she knew it, she’d signed up for six classes and become a front desk volunteer at Upstate Oasis.
That was 14 years, 521 classes and three bouts of cancer ago. Today, Mady is cancer free and as busy as ever. She credits her survival in part to the classes and the community she found at Oasis.
“As I was going through chemo and other treatments, the classes gave me something to look forward to,” she explains. “It got me up and out of the house. If I was having a bad day, I’d go to class and I’d feel so much better.”
Research shows that Mady’s experience is just one of many benefits enjoyed through lifelong learning. “Several studies show the positive impact lifelong learning has on all aspects of health,” explains Sandra von Doetinchem, Program Specialist for Continuing Education at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Chair of LEARN Council of the American Society on Aging.
Mady, 79, agrees wholeheartedly. She takes about three classes a week.
“Oasis has filled my life,” she says. “I like taking classes on topics I know nothing about. I want to walk out knowing about something I would never have learned on my own.”
Her long list of class selections bears witness to a curious mind. From history classes about the presidents, global politics and ancient societies, to classes on travel, the science of natural disasters and classic Hollywood movies, Mady is amazed with the quality and variety of topics offered. “I am never disappointed,” she says. “Everything is so interesting, especially the other members in the classes!”
Friendships Blossom Where Knowledge Grows
For Washington Metropolitan Oasis participants Elizabeth Stem and Becca Soutar, their like-minded approach to classes, and seat selection, led to an enduring friendship.
“We realized early on that we kept coming to the same classes,” Elizabeth says. “And we both liked sitting in the back because that’s where you get the best view.” The two compared their notes and saw a lot of overlap. Their friendship quickly grew as Becca and Elizabeth spent several days each week exploring history, geography, music and local politics. Becca’s love of art even encouraged Elizabeth to take art classes that she may not have tried otherwise.
In the nine years since they’ve met, Becca has taken 770 classes and Elizabeth 1,042. They agree that the instructors are what make Oasis classes so special. “These are no amateurs,” Becca says. “We have retired diplomats, university professors, professional musicians and artists. Our instructors bring it to life. The classes really stimulate my thinking and keep me focused on what’s happening in the world.”
At the same time, the friendships and sense of community feed the soul. “The friends I’ve made here have broadened my life,” Becca says. Elizabeth is quick to agree, “The atmosphere at Oasis is very nourishing.”
Use it or lose it
Oasis participants across the country prove every day that the adage about old dogs and new tricks just isn’t true.
Sandra von Doetinchem explains that while processing speeds and accuracy associated with something called fluid intelligence do start to decline in early adulthood, other intelligence functions based on experience and knowledge, actually improve into old age. “Crystallized intelligence centers on the abilities needed for solving cognitive challenges: vocabulary, social behavior and cultural knowledge,” she says. “As long as these skills are practiced, they can be maintained into the oldest old age.”
Elinor Smith is a true believer in the “use it or lose it” philosophy. “Getting old is wonderful because you have the time to do what interests you,” she says. “The longer you continue to learn, the healthier and more vibrant you’ll be.”
When she joined San Diego Oasis five years ago, the then 79-year-old started Spanish classes. She’d received her Master’s in Russian from Harvard and studied French and German as an undergraduate. “I thought it would be fun and useful to learn Spanish, especially living in the San Diego area,” Elinor says. “It’s been great to meet people who are taking Spanish for all kinds of reasons.”
Learning really is a lifelong passion for Elinor. When she retired from teaching at the age of 71, she took a year-long course to be certified as a personal trainer. She still works with a few private clients and teaches a class in Gentle Strength Training at San Diego Oasis. Last year, she fulfilled a lifelong desire to dance when she bought a pair of tap shoes and signed up for Tappercize.
“Oasis has so many offerings,” Elinor says. “I love the lectures on history and opera, and the music classes. My problem is trying not to take too many classes because my plate is so full!”
A pioneer in healthy aging, Oasis encourages a three-fold approach that experts and our participants agree makes getting older interesting and productive: lifelong learning, active lifestyles and volunteer engagement. In 2017, more 135,000 adults participated in 7,640 lifelong learning classes in nine Oasis centers across the country. For more information about locally-developed classes, find a city near you and check out a catalog.