The studies on brain health are consistent: An active brain is a healthy brain.
From adult education programs to college courses to local parks and recreation department programs, southeastern Connecticut offers enrichment opportunities ranging from the practical to the aspirational.
In fact, the second half of life is becoming a new age of opportunity. People are increasingly learning new skills - taking up a foreign language, delving into gourmet cooking or even learning how to produce and market short films.
One course through New London Adult & Continuing Education, taught by financial planner Stephan Brueckner of Madison, attracts both retirees and those thinking of retiring. Titled "Retirement Realities," the one-night course is broken into thirds. The first section untangles current events that have affected the economy, the second part teaches about taxation and inflation, and the third is about protecting assets, Brueckner said.
"'Retirement Realities' serves as a wake-up call, we cover topics that directly impact people," Brueckner said.
Brad Whiteman of Guilford said he took the course to help him plan his future retirement. "Most financial information seemed opaque - he was very transparent," Whiteman said.
Beyond their bank statements, residents can delve into areas of personal interest by auditing classes at area colleges. Auditing a college course means the student does not receive college credit, and class participation and completion of assignments are agreed upon by the student and instructor. At Connecticut College, auditing students can receive a ten percent discount - making the fee $288 for those age 60 and older.
FOR THE FUN OF IT
Keeping an eye out for free lectures at area colleges and community centers is another way to broaden intellectual horizons. Mitchell College sponsors public seminars throughout the year. And during the summer, credit-based courses are available for adults.
In addition to hosting a series of fitness and wellness classes, including some tailored to those 60 and older, La Grua Center in Stonington Borough offers diverse lectures and special presentations. The first three Sundays in October, for example, feature a discussion on Medicare (Oct. 7); 'Burrowing into the Borough,' a series in which local folks speak on their topics of expertise (Oct. 14) and a spotlight on Connecticut Poetry as part of the center's Arts and Culture Series (Oct. 21).
At Three Rivers Community College, a group of volunteers has put together an "Adventures in Lifelong Learning" program to offer an eclectic variety of classes, outings and lectures to those 50 and older. Community volunteers with expertise teach the courses, with lectures led by Three Rivers faculty. Students also enjoy guided trips to art galleries, museums and historic sites.
Bette Peck, of Lisbon, president of the group, said courses are offered during the fall and spring semesters, and registration costs $15.
Last semester, Peck said, the program conducted more than 60 classes in an eight-week period. Participants can learn about theater, take a course in classic movies, and a writer's workshop on creating memoirs. Lectures covered everything from military history to "Obama and the Economy."
"People don't want to sit home and watch TV all day," said Peck. "They are intellectually curious. It's also a social thing - you get to meet other people, and it's stimulating."
FEEDING THE SOUL
As full-time work winds down, many people find they have more time for reflection. And the life experiences gathered during earlier decades can prompt the desire for a deeper spiritual
Courses like "Learn the Spiritual Art of Written Prayer," "Live an Authentic and Fulfilling Life" and "An Introduction to A Course in Miracles," all taught through New London Adult & Continuing Education, meet those needs.
Casey Roberts of Branford, who teaches "An Introduction to A Course In Miracles," notes that people who are in their middle years are more likely to seek spiritual fulfillment, partly because of time, but more because of the stage of life.
Rarely does Roberts see twenty- and thirty-somethings in her course. But starting at around age 40, Roberts noticed that "people are searching and basically saying, 'there has to be a better way.' You only reach that stage when you have life experiences that show you there is a spiritual path. It's an individual statement, and that statement can only be made in one's middle years," said Roberts.
The classes follow the popular book published in 1979, "A Course in Miracles;" a spiritual guide written in Christian language but understood to be non-denominational. Described as a "path to peace" by Roberts, whose course takes place over a three-week period, it is still a challenging book, and often people decide to break down into study groups to further explore the book's meaning.
That is what Barbara Fay of Waterford is doing, after taking the course last fall. Fay will be retired for two years this month, and when she retired she said she had some goals: more time with family and friends and spiritual growth.
"It's a spiritual class and it's all about forgiveness and loving ourselves," said Fay, who said the book has enriched her life.
Fulfillment, whether it is spiritual, educational or recreational, is a lifelong process - there is no magic key, which can make it perhaps the most exciting pursuit of all.