How does a lifelong learning program fit in a Memory Care setting? Whether it is Dementia Friendly Tempe, a Senior Day Center, or a senior adult living community for memory care, organizations across the US are using lifelong learning classes to generate enthusiasm and inspire participation.

Every Monday, residents and their loved ones gather at the Tempe Public Library for the “Memory Café.” The caregivers attend a support group discussion, and the loved ones attend their class. Sometimes it is music therapy or a discussion of what is new in the 21st Century or a lifelong learning class. At the end of a recent lifelong learning class on the “1950s,” one of the participants said, “I have forgotten how much I knew about the 1950s!”. She felt so good about her experience in class that she told her husband, “This was the best class I have ever attended.”

A lifelong learning class for memory care is not a lecture. It is an “experience.” What a lifelong learning class provides is an opportunity to be treated like an adult, belong to a class, and perhaps recall previous experiences and even tell funny stories.

Here are a few helpful steps to follow when implementing a lifelong learning program in memory care.

  • Small group learning – this is not a lecture.
  • Gear the topic to the participant’s interests. One community hosts a weekly class titled “Coffee with Henry Ford,” and they report that five-six men attend the class every week. The participants love talking about cars and reminiscing about their first car (which led to a visit from a classic car club).
  • The ALLE Learning class slide deck (PowerPoint) is designed to encourage conversation & participation. Hints and questions appear on each slide to help the presenter, as well as the participants, work through the topic.
  • Ask questions, encourage discussion: “Let’s see if we can come up with reasons why Thomas Edison invented the phonograph.”

For senior adults (and any learner), their knowledge is based on a combination of education and experience. Creating programs that provide the opportunity to use both knowledge and experience offers validation of who they were and that they are still that person today. More importantly, their participation in a class gives them a sense of belonging as well as contributing. All of these things help people have a positive and meaningful experience and at the end of the day, that is an excellent thing!