Online courses and new skills will help seniors reduce the risk of isolation
According to Monika Martinez from the League for Mental Health in the Elderly, rediscovering old hobbies and staying open to new impulses is the key. "This makes it easier for them to maintain good physical and mental well-being. An active approach to life and a desire to learn and try new things is very effective prevention against mental disorders such as depression, dementia, and anxiety. "
During the pandemic, Nezábudka helpline staff have recorded an increased number of phone calls from older people. According to M. Martinezová, this may be related to loneliness and isolation felt during restrictions and lessened social contacts. "We recommend seniors take advantage of the possibility of online activities, as long as they have the technical conditions for it." According to the League for Mental Health online spaces open up the opportunity to strengthen long-lasting, but also to establish new social contacts.
The President of the Association of Adult Education Institutions of the Slovak Republic, Klaudius Šilhár, also emphasizes the positive impact of new activities. "Developing hobbies has a beneficial effect on seniors. It improves their overall mobility, communication, and socialization. Many scientific studies (eg Benefits of Lifelong Learning) have shown that informal learning is also reflected in senior self-confidence and better health. They simply improve their quality of life through education. "
M. Martinezová from the League for Mental Health assumes that it is the limitations we are experiencing during the pandemic that could cause seniors to accept new online opportunities in a positive way. "However, change can also stress older people out. New technologies and their rapid development are mostly unknown to them. They may doubt their ability to learn to control them and are often afraid to admit it, or do not want to burden others. When learning online, it is therefore important that the other party is able to understand their concerns so that they are met with patience and tolerance. At the same time we must respect the age ranges of seniors. It makes a difference whether it is a younger pensioner, or an older person."
According to teacher Ondrej Koščík, who runs online English courses for seniors at The Bridge, his students managed the transition to the online environment very well. "Thanks to my experience with video calling in the family, it was not difficult. They really appreciate that during the online English language course, they can see and communicate with each other again via the screen. They liked the shared screen, where everyone can equally see what we are downloading and talking about. "
In addition to the safety and atmosphere of the home environment, the online language course allows them to not lose contact with others and learning. "It simply came to our notice then. While of course it is important to meet in person, an online space always gives us the surest chance to connect wherever we are, as the situation allows. Of course the technical possibilities of the time are also quite widespread, and we can show each other a lot.”
According to Ondrej Koščík, senior students are very hardworking and determined. "They know how to help each other. Unlike other age groups, they have more time and can use it for systematic learning."
The Bridge was one of the first Slovak language schools to offer English courses for seniors. "We quickly understood that offering traditional courses is not always a suitable solution for older students. They need a special approach, not just a different pace of learning," explains the school principal, K. Bednárová. In regular full-time courses, senior students do not have to hurry anywhere. "An hour before, they can make coffee and talk. After class, they go to lunch together. We also adjusted the time of the courses, directing them away from early morning and late afternoon hours. As a result, they do not travel at peak times and avoid darkness in the winter months. "
Exercise for the brain
According to K. Bednárová, learning a foreign language is an excellent brain exercise for seniors. "Many studies confirm that regular study of a foreign language is effective prevention against dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease." For many senior students, however, English language lessons have other practical applications. "Many have mixed marriages in the family. Their daughter or son married a foreigner. Their grandchildren often do not speak Slovak well. This is often their biggest motivation to learn," continues Klaudia Bednárová.
Free week of online English
To highlight the importance of learning new things, including English, the school has prepared a week-long free online English course.
"We would like to break down a barrier with a free online English school. When we started offering English language courses for seniors eight years ago, many students were concerned about learning a foreign language. It bothered them that they felt old and like they couldn't really learn anything. When we offered the course for free, suddenly one hundred and twenty applications came in. Half of them have stayed with our school and attracted others. We hope that we will be able to achieve a similar effect of breaking down barriers with a free online course, " explains Klaudia Bednárová.
"We want to show them a free English school where they don't have to be afraid of online learning. We will help them with technical things, usually instructing them via mobile phone. Once they experience online learning, that fear of the unknown is broken. We believe that getting acquainted with the methods of online teaching will open doors for them not only to English, but also to other activities that take place in the online environment today." The free online course also includes an online workshop on how to use Zoom and navigate the online environment. "We believe that thanks to this experience, it will be easier to call each other or invite friends to their online kitchen for coffee. It will give them the opportunity and ability to continue to develop socially. I think that seniors are now being boxed into a corner, so it’s all the more important that they join an activity, " continues Klaudia Bednárová.
Her words are echoed by Monika Martinezová from the League for Mental Health. "We humans are social beings. Social contacts are key for us in terms of healthy functioning at any age. If they are reduced to a minimum for some reason a person may feel lonely, unnecessary, or lose their meaning of life. Therefore, we also strongly recommend seniors in the current situation replace physical encounters with the possibilities offered by the online world. To set aside time during the day to make a phone call, text message or e-mail someone in the family, friends or people they trust, and share with them how they are living during this period. It is important that they have someone to talk to about their feelings, worries, or fears for the future. "