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Translational Studies for Inclusive Society
"The Power to Continue Activities of the Elderly People’s Support Team"

Writer: KITAHARA Yasuko (Professor of Kawamura Gakuen Woman's University / Visiting Researcher of Institute of Human Sciences, Ritsumeikan University)   terms: 2015 10

Learning activities that continue and expand

It happened when a conference was being held at Ritsumeikan University. Seeing a sign that green tea was being offered, in the break room I was shown great hospitality by a group of lively, energetic seniors. At the time I was worried about my mother living alone was dangerous, so to me they all seemed very warm and dazzling. As a result of this chance encounter, I ended up using my sabbatical to experience the Elderly People’s Support Team’s learning activities first hand.

The learning activities have been carried out for more than 10 years just within the university, and the people who served me tea were members of Sosei-no-kai, an alumni association who continued the activities on their own initiative after having “graduated”. What is the secret behind these activities that has seen more than 1500 participants take part and their web of relationships continue to expand?

The meaning of continuing for learners

As is revealed by behavioral analysis, an activity is continued because there is a “benefit” for the person engaging in it. Of course, the Elderly People’s Support Team is scientifically examining the effectiveness of these activities on frontal lobe function maintenance/improvement.But direct effects are only expected quite far in the future. What is the immediate benefit (psychological reward) that makes participants think, “that was good, I want to come again”? “It was interesting and fun” seems the most likely explanation, but my mother drifted away from the postcard-painting class she had been attending for many years, saying, “I don’t enjoy it (the way I used to)”. When her anxiety grew stronger as her inability to trust her eyes and hands increased and dementia started to creep in, continuing her “hobby” activities became a burden.

The reading aloud/calculation worksheets, on the other hand, are composed of simple problems that can be solved by middle-year elementary school children, and each page can be finished within ten minutes. The learners thus have confidence that they will able to complete the next one, are in fact able to do so, and are able to see for themselves that the positive “Perfect score!” evaluation they receive is not a lie. The fact that elderly learners are able to obtain “a sense of security”, “a sense of self-validation”, and “genuine positive feedback” from learning activities presumably reinforces their motivation.

The meaning of continuing for supporters

A review after a session of learning activities. The supporters who facilitate these learning activities (students and members of the local community) without compensation must also be receiving some kind of psychological reward each time they do so. The “sense of self-efficacy” of supervising learner’s reading aloud/calculation presumably forms a common base, but there are multiple perspectives on the factors affecting continuation of these activities, and it has been determined that their influence differs depending on the subject’s stage in their “lifecycle” (Sakurai, 2005). In my own case, as someone in middle age, when I took part in these activities as a supporter the review that took place after each session left a strong impression. Friendly but serious discussions of questions such as how each learner was doing, whether the level of the worksheets was appropriate, and whether the interactions had gone well, were conducted under the guidance of Support Team staff members after each session of activities had finished, and sometimes the supporters shared knowledge and insights amongst themselves. While I did not discuss my elderly mother and my own future directly, when I encountered this warm, constructive “group/organization support” I felt less anxious about these matters.

The “hope” that I am not alone and that there are some measures that can be taken is perhaps a valuable “response” in today’s society that is rapidly aging and heading toward an unclear future. I am eager to see this circle of support expand and this hope kept alive.

References

  • Sakurai, M. (2005).Age-related Predictors of Volunteer Retention (ライフサイクルから見たボランティア活動継続要因の差異).The Nonprofit Review, 5,2,103-113.
  • Yoshida, H., SUN, Q., Tsuchida, N. and Okawa, I. (2014).Do practices of learning activities improve the cognitive functioning of healthy elderly adults? From the viewpoint of a transfer effect. (学習活動の遂行で健康高齢者の認知機能を改善できるか-転移効果から-) 心理学研究,85,2,130-138.

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