A group of Kamloops residents has discovered the fountain of youth and it's not some mythical spring rejuvenating its bathers. It's actually all in their minds - literally.
The Kamloops Adult Learners Society has been inviting people of retirement age to join in stimulating classroom courses and conversation since 2005.
Third age learning opportunities are credited with providing students with a sense of purpose, autonomy, self-acceptance and personal growth.
Students themselves will tell you that the courses keep the students active and sharp. And it goes a long way to combating ageism.
"Society has a preconceived idea that by 60 you're near the grave and the grey matter is gone," said KALS member Loretta Huff. "That's the biggest hoax we've ever been sold."
And they have a Thompson Rivers University study to prove it.
A TRU associate English professor revealed results of her own research on the group at the end of November in her presentation New Tricks: What I Learned Teaching and Researching the Kamloops Adult Learners Society.
Ginny Ratsoy's research shows that so-called third age learners experience an enhanced quality of life and lower instances of depression and anxiety.
"KALS is part of a global movement of seniors that is challenging societal assumptions like 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks,' " said Ratsoy, referring to the tongue-in-cheek title of her study.
"As it turned out, I had a few assumptions of my own that were challenged."
Since their 1972 inception in Toulouse, France, third age learning centres have spread to all five continents and now provide courses to millions of retirees.
By the year 2000, China alone had some 19,300 centres with nearly two million members.
And lifelong learning isn't merely good for a student's longevity; it also correlates to broader benefits for society at large.
In 2011, Marvin Formosa of the European Centre of Gerontology published a study exploring the topic.
He said the students volunteer in community organizations and participate in community activities to a greater degree. And countries with expansive adult learning opportunities spend less on welfare and civic programming for seniors.
But the movement hasn't developed without some contention.
Some dilemmas included a failure to take advantage of the cyberspace revolution and signs of elitism, even though adult learning centres are open to everyone of a certain age.
The definition of the term third age also emerged as an enormous bone of contention, but there's general agreement that it refers to those older than 50 whose everyday lives are free from regular employment and/or raising a family.
Those age parameters also apply to the Kamloops society, said president Norm Moss.
"When we say we're looking for people of retired age, we know that people retire at a younger age now," said Moss.
An older student body allows the society to benefit from shared knowledge.
Far from the traditional passive model where teachers impart knowledge that students take in, the Kamloops Adult Learners Society adopts the peer model of instruction and learning.
The expertise of retirees becomes a valuable resource in organizing programs and instruction. It also creates a dynamic and lively environment for discussion and debate.
And it helps that several former TRU faculty members are KALS members.
That model further encourages older adults to integrate and form their own social environment while pursuing intellectual development.
Kamloops learners are especially keen about the absence of tests since the experience becomes its own reward rather than a means of achieving credentials.
"When you first went to work or university it seemed like something you had to do," said
Ray Zacharias, retired Kamloops school superintendent. "KALS is something you want to do, especially for the women of our generation who looked after the house and kids."
Many of them had a "yearning for learning," said Zacharias, whose wife is also a member.
This is "a big factor in adult learning," he said.
(The approach is appealing to others age ranges as well, as evidenced by the tongue-in-cheek request to join the group by an envious 20-year-old TRU student attending Ratsoy's presentation.)
And it's not only learners benefiting. Ratsoy credits her experience with KALS for "reinvigorating" her teaching.
"My style is through group discussions so it makes it easy," she said, adding with a laugh, "they're not always discussing my questions but "
With all that emphasis on discussions, Ratsoy can be forgiven for assuming the KALS members' eagerness to join courses came primarily from the social aspect.
Instead through surveys and interviews with members, she discovered that their drive truly was for intellectual stimulation.
She describes that stimulation as an "enhanced understanding of local and global issues, altered perspectives and a desire to be taken out of comfort zones."
Retirees are always welcome to join. For more information about Kamloops Adult Learners
Society, visit www.kals.ca or call 250-819-5153.
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