Flower-arranging class for seniors
A flower-arranging class for seniors at San Diego Oasis.

For centuries, great thinkers and celebrities have extolled the virtues of aging. Even iconic rocker David Bowie once said, “Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.” As many of San Diego’s seniors know, aging isn’t without its challenges—one of which is isolation and the feeling of being “left behind.”

Social isolation among adults 55+ is a growing epidemic. According to the AARP, more than 8 million adults are affected by isolation, and the physical health risks are detrimental. One study says that prolonged isolation is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

But in San Diego and other communities across the country, more and more programs are available to help seniors. Whether they are retired or working, comfortable financially or struggling to get by, local seniors are sharp, active, and curious.

In the 1980s, programs for older adults were oriented around games and passive activities. There has been a long-held perception by the general public about older adults that there is an association between aging and decline. But today, older adults see themselves differently than generations before. Age is just a number.

They are healthier, more cognitively fit, and better educated than any previous generation. They want to keep up with advances in technology, be included in public policy conversations, stay physically fit, learn new skills, and be social. Thankfully, there are many resources and opportunities to do all these things in San Diego — redefining what aging means.

Back to School…for Seniors

Our region is a hotbed of higher education, and every institution from our world-famous research universities to our community colleges and local nonprofit organizations offer courses in almost any subject you can imagine, tailored to the interests of a diverse population of older adults. Our partners in higher education offer low-cost, skill-building courses to help older adults rejoin the workforce, as well as rigorous academic instruction. At San Diego Oasis, for example, older adults can choose from 3,000 workshops, trainings, and lectures annually at over 45 locations in the region. Some workshops are free, and a majority are low cost — the average cost is $10.

Get Fit

San Diego’s year-round sunshine means we are an active city where residents like to play outside. There are local organizations and groups whose mission is to keep seniors fit and healthy — for mind, body, and spirit. Classes in balance and strength-training, water fitness, yoga, or even soul line dancing can be found at a traditional fitness facility or at a neighborhood center. Go deeper and attend wellness lectures and participate in health screenings. When you get moving, you do much more than improve your physical health — your mental wellness can improve as well. Besides, fitness is better with a friend!

Closing the Digital Divide

Rapid advances in personal technology mean even yesterday’s software developer might occasionally need their 12-year-old grandchild to show them how to use their iPhone or latest smart home app. But San Diego’s role as a tech hub means seniors don’t need to rely on their grandchildren for crash courses on digital devices. Whether you want to stay connected with family or re-enter the workforce, there are courses, lectures, and tutoring opportunities to get your questions answered and build your confidence, so you’ll be a tech wizard in no time.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw, always the brilliant wordsmith, said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Every single day I see seniors finding new pleasures in life through San Diego Oasis and similar programs around San Diego County. That includes the recent retiree who was in a major accident and needed activities to get her out of the house and the isolated widower who found his love of art and dance. Older adults are looking to reignite old passions and engage in new interests.

It’s about reminding ourselves that everyone can learn, and everyone has something to offer, no matter how old they are.

Simona Valanciute is the president and CEO of San Diego Oasis, a nonprofit dedicated to providing unique educational programming for adults 50+ who want to continue to learn and be productive throughout life. Membership is free and open to anyone 50 or older.