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Programs for 50+

Connecting 50-Plus Adult Learners During COVID-19

How online learning has enabled Heather and Bob to connect with others in Programs for 50+ workshops during a time when we have to be apart.

A recent report by Morneau Shepell found that working Canadians are currently as distressed as the most distressed four per cent of working Canadians, prior to 2020 as a result of COVID-19.

While Dr. Heather Driscoll juggles a busy job in risk management, track and field and race walking training, being a mother of two, and a caregiver for aging parents, she credits staying connected with people outside her bubble through online learning as a positive outlet.

Heather, who is Chief Enterprise Risk Management Officer and Director, Governance at Ryerson University, said one of the things that’s helped her stay in good spirits has been the support from her employer, Ryerson University, which has given employees flexibility to participate in online learning and workshops and encourages them to take care of themselves.

Heather has taken advantage of that and recently completed a Programs for 50+ workshop offered by The Chang School of Continuing Education called, “Nourishing the Aging Brain for Peak Cognitive Performance”, which was taught by Instructor Patricia Borsato. Heather also took another workshop titled, “Brain Vitality Online Workshop – Food, Nutrition, and Fitness”, which was taught by Instructor Dr. Andrea Wilkinson.

“Ryerson prioritizes its employees’ wellness so I felt okay to do a course during my lunch hour,” said Heather. “It makes me a stronger and more resilient person, and as a result, a better employee.”

Support From Employers is Key

Employers have a strong role in supporting the mental health of employees, in particular during times of disruption, according to Morneau Shepell. The June 2020 Mental Health Index Report said employees who indicate that their employer supports mental well-being have better mental health scores than those who indicate that their employer supports mental health poorly or inconsistently.

On top of employer support, having meaningful interactions with people, whether it’s co-workers or friends and family members on a regular basis, also helps combat the negative impacts of the pandemic like loneliness. In fact, the most recent health index from Morneau Shepell revealed that loneliness over fear of dying from COVID-19 is taking a toll on employed Canadians’ mental health. So, it’s no surprise that people are seeking these more than ever before.

That’s what’s helped Programs for 50+ student Robert (Bob) McNeely during the pandemic. McNeely is a partner in a GTA-based law firm and has enrolled in three courses with The Estelle Craig Act II Studio: “Imagining the Moment”, “Art of Comedy”, and “Shakespeare Yes you Can”.

“I’ve not struggled at all (with loneliness) and have sufficient interaction through my office and Zoom events,” said Bob.

While video conferencing technology is great for staying in touch, McNeely admits there are some limitations, especially with something as interactive as acting.

“Zoom is adequate for some course settings and lacking in others where actor-to-actor interaction and blocking is needed,” he said, adding, “It’s better than nothing. I’ve enjoyed it and adapted to it to the extent of its possibilities.”

Likewise, Heather finds the online version of 50+ programs a unique and rewarding experience during difficult times. “You can bring right into your living room access to smart people and cool information that you wouldn’t get otherwise,” she said, adding that being online allows people who might have been precluded from participating before in-person to be present.

Even after being on video calls all day with work, Heather finds online sessions to be an “incredible blessing”.

Tips for Helping with Isolation and Loneliness

Heather said pre-COVID, she was able to “skate through” her hectic schedule with bad habits like staying up too late and not sleeping well (some things we’re all probably guilty of!) but once COVID hit, that was no longer possible.

However, Heather has remained positive: “In a weird way, COVID has been an incredible opportunity to learn about myself,” she said.

Heather has imparted her newfound wisdom with some practical advice for people to combat isolation and loneliness. These include:

Having a core routine and habit: go to bed and get up at the same time every day, do some exercise in the morning, have a healthy breakfast, etc.
Making sure you have space and time to have things that bring you joy
Being resilient: whatever the day brings, tell yourself that you’re going to find a way to deal with it and see it as an opportunity

What have your experiences been like during the pandemic? How have you managed to keep a healthy mindset? Leave your comments below.