Aging adults can help fend off Alzheimer's and dementia by keeping their minds sharp through continuing education. Stephanie Tarpley, Program Manager at Emory University Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, joins us to discuss the learning opportunities out there for seniors, many at little to no cost.

Video Transcript

- Hello everyone and welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. As always, I am so glad that you could join us today via video and for those listening via podcast, welcome in. Today, we are talking about one way you can keep your mind sharp as you age, and that is continuing education. There are so many opportunities out there for seniors, many at little to no cost. And I've got a wonderful opportunity here today that I'd like to share with you as well as why we want to continue education after we finish college when we were in our teens and our 20s. I've got Stephanie Tarpley with me, from OLLI at Emory University and Continuing Education. Stephanie, how are you today?

- I'm great. Thank you for having me.

- Excellent. Tell us a little bit about your background.

- So I'm a gerontologist, so I have studied the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. I have also worked in managed care in the past, but for the last four years, I've worked with the OLLI program at Emory University. And what OLLI stands for is Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and I just I enjoy what I do. I get as much out of it as they do.

- Yeah. And you and I had a nice conversation a few days ago about this program, and I live in Atlanta as well. And this is really for anybody from around the country who's watching in terms of our conversation today, but Emory, where you were talking about this particular program is in Atlanta, and I had not really heard about this, but I got very excited to hear about all the offerings. And I hope that by the end of our conversation, our viewers will be excited about it as well. So let's start with our broader topic, Stephanie, why is continuing education important especially for seniors?

- So growth in learning, doesn't stop at retirement or at retirement age. Your brain responds according to the activities that you expose yourself to. And our life has different stages as we retire. So you once had coworkers that were around you and you engaged with, so it's important to keep your social aspects of life going, and continuing education does that. You continue to stimulate your mind and that's very important.

- Yeah. So when we talk about that and not going into too much of a deep dive here, but when it comes to cognitive function, which can be problematic for some of us as we continue to age, even from your 40s and your 50s, and as you continue on, 60s, 70s, 80s, how can something like continuing to learn, or something like language learning, or classes help or improve those particular abilities?

- So the human brain, it's a novelty seeking machine. So studies have shown that foreign language can improve your brains functionality. The language learning process challenges your brain, and you recognize words, you negotiate the meaning of those words, and you communicate in an entirely different language system. So that skill translates into other problem solving areas. There has been studies done that have shown that learning a new language does seem to help with overall decision-making because what your brain does is it allows you to think out a problem in more than one language. So that's part of it, and there's studies that show that it helps fend off some of those Alzheimer's and dementia.

- Yeah, and kind of sort of slows the process down. If it's going to happen, it'll happen, but you can-

- Right.

- head it off just a little bit, and sort of delay what is perhaps the inevitable for some people who may have hereditary or... And I know that it's still a disease that we're still figuring out a lot about, but these are ways... It's like your body, you use it or you lose it. And I truly believe that. And in all of our discussions with people like yourself, when it comes to the body and it comes to the mind. And again, continuing to learn in retirement is one awesome way to do that. So your program there at Emory, the OLLI Program, it is fantastic. And I know you've got quite a few courses that are offered, but what I thought was interesting was how long this program has been around. It's been around for a long time.

- Yes, it has. We've been around for more than 40 years. I mean it's come through a few name changes, but we've been around for a long time. And one of the good things about our program is that we try to make it a cohesive program, just like we talked about foreign language. You know, we tried to implement foreign language classes, and then right now our program is planning Italy trips in 2022 and 2023. So you will take classes that will integrate into other areas of your life. And travel is one of the great aspects of retirement.

- It sure is. And I know that that's sort of been something that many of us have had to kind of stop doing because of COVID. So it is great that you're looking ahead to give everybody something to look forward to. And speaking of COVID, I think this is a good way to transition into this conversation. This used to be really kind of an in-person learning situation at Emory, but due to COVID, enrollment has sort of opened up for everybody. So how have you all been able to pivot with the times and how can someone who's maybe in Texas or in California enroll right now?

- So as of March of 2020, all of our lives changed, but we went into... Quickly adapted to having courses via Zoom. And surprisingly, everybody adapted really quickly and we have figured out that this niche is something that will continue to be a part of our program. Even when we transition back into the classroom, we will have classes that are termed high flex or some that are just Zoom, because what it enables us to do is reach people that are beyond Atlanta. And we even having an instructor in Spain and we have students in California. So it's just amazing the people that we've reached. And it's also enabled individuals to attend usually more than one day of classes, they can attend multiple times each week. And the best part is, is that you don't have to get in Atlanta traffic.

- And it can be pretty bad. If you don't live here, it can be rough, but yeah, there are very few things that I think COVID has brought to us that have been positive, but connecting people around the world, around our country at the drop of a hat to me has been one of the greatest things that I think kind of it has provided us or accelerated for all of us. So that is great that you're going to continue to offer that. So we talk about seniors across the country that could be a part of this program. Many can look and say, well, I can go to my local college. They offer free tuition, but tuition might be free, but the books, everything else that goes along with it, not so free. So when you look at having to pay for that continuing education, I think you can get a pretty good deal from what Emory has to offer. So can you break down the cost to our viewers and then how they are able to enroll.

- Yes, so we are a member organization, meaning that if you pay $50 per year for a membership, and the biggest aspect of our program is the social aspect. Although there are other programs or universities where you can get involved with courses, our courses are around peers. So you're around people that are just like you are, and you're also around individuals that are taking courses because they want to be there. And I can tell you from being around students that want to be in class versus having to be in class is a huge difference. The $50 per year allows you to take some specials presentations for free. We have events, we have special interest groups, especially book clubs, and they're made each week. And you register for courses, other courses. We're generally about $10 per session. So our four week course would be $40. The six week course could be $60. And that's just in addition to some of those free things that we have. And we have all type of courses, any type of art, history, music, religion, you name it, we have it.

- I love it. Now you had mentioned having somebody from Spain who is helping out to teach. I think that is amazing. And I also believe when you say having to be in class is different from wanting to be in class. I also think it matters who is teaching you, somebody who really, truly wants to be there. And that seems like that's the case with this program. You've got a really impressive roster of professors. Can you share with us some of the backgrounds of those professors, and then give us an example of maybe some of the students who have really enjoyed or benefited from this program.

- So, yeah, so we have an outstanding array of instructors. We have some retired faculty from Emory and even surrounding colleges and universities. We have other experts that have had professional careers that even though they may teach outside of what their normal career might have been, it's through things that they have found enjoyment in and they have become experts in those fields. We also have a lot of students and instructors that are retired medical doctors and CDC professionals. So we have an array of different aspects to our program that makes it very interesting.

- Yeah. And can you share with us a story perhaps about a student or students who maybe just keep coming back each year or who have really gotten something wonderful out of this program.

- So, you know, a lot of our students say that OLLI is their second home. Our program is what helps keep them relevant in the intellectual and background of these students is what keeps them interested. And it keeps them engaged. We hear that from multiple people and the thing that I get the most enjoyment out of it is as soon as you see them either enter a Zoom room, or even when they get off the elevator, you see it in their eyes and in their face how excited they are to be where they are.

- Yeah, I love that so much, that sort of feeling of community. And again, you can still feel that from afar via Zoom. You can still see who your peers are. And I like something that you pointed out on that end. What is the difference between having a Zoom class and maybe being in the classroom? Stephanie?

- So in a Zoom class, you're able to actually see the individual up close and see when they're talking. And of course, when you're in a classroom, your view is the back of everybody's head. And it actually makes it harder to hear sometimes during discussions, but on Zoom, you're actually being able to see them when they're talking.

- I love that you pointed that out. Thank you for that. Because it is true, I hadn't even thought about that, but that is absolutely true. So you talk about the different array of classes, and I know you've got a free option coming up for our viewers to get perhaps a sneak peek of what this program is all about. And that's coming up September 21st, tell us about the subject and the material that they'll see, and then how they can be a part of that class.

- So of course it's a Zoom presentation. It's September 21st, it's from 10:00 to 11:30 in the morning, and it's climate change. It's real. So what can the law do about it? And the instructor on this is Dr. Mindy Goldstein. She is the director of Turner Environmental Law Clinic, Environmental and Natural Resources Law program at Emory University Law School. It's a big mouthful.

- It is. But yeah, it just goes to show again that the people that are teaching these classes, I mean, you have really knowledgeable individuals who know their stuff that are hoping that you can learn some of your stuff through their knowledge in the classroom. I think that is just fantastic. So-

- Yes, and I think that some of the things too, that it may be an area that you never thought that would interest you, but when you see another perspective, you really learn and grow and you research more on it, and it kind of opens our minds.

- And you had mentioned an opera class. And that brought me back to my college days. I took an opera class. It's totally not even relevant to the subject material I needed to go to school for, but I took it as an elective and I had really enjoyed it.

- Yes, we have opera classes. And we also do virtual operas slightly. In January, we have a opera that we will be going to. So it's interesting.

- Yeah, I love it so much. Well, as we wind down this interview, once again, tell our audience how they can go about finding out more information, not only about enrollment, but about the program. And then one more reason why seniors should consider continuing education in retirement.

- So you can of course find us at our website. Our website is Olli, which is And our email is You can also call us, which is 404-727-5489. You could also Google us, of course. So why consider continuing education? So learning begins from birth, and then it ends at death. So seeking out continuing education helps you remain relevant. It helps you adapt to unexpected changes. It sparks new ideas, as well as your confidence. And it can also change your perspective, especially on new things that you've never indulged in. Like I talked about before. So pay it forward, let others learn from you. We all have experience and knowledge that's worth sharing.

- Yeah, and you know, as our children go back to school in the fall, it might be a good time to start a new as well. If you're just entering retirement, this might be something fantastic for you that you didn't even know existed in terms of learning something new that you probably never thought you'd be interested in. And so I love this topic and I really hope that our viewers were able to get something out of it. I know I have. It has been eyeopening, it has been enlightening. And Stephanie, we thank you so much for taking the time out to be with us today to share your knowledge on continuing education.

- Thank you.

- Thank you. Well, if you enjoyed watching this interview with Stephanie or watching via video, listening via podcast, we have several options. You can head on over to our website at There you can find all of our content, all about Senior Living, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Thanks again for being a part of Senior Living Live. Have a great day, everybody.

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