Stereotypes inevitably become part of our attitudes, and they in turn can affect our behaviour and reinforce myths. Take this common example. We have all heard, and perhaps more or less accept, the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks". This frequently translates into such ideas as "I'm too old to learn something new" or "one becomes less intelligent as one ages", ideas which can affect our ability and our desire to learn. The problem, however, is larger still. Because, if, as the myth goes, you can't teach an old dog, then why would a society establish learning opportunities for older adults?
Recent research on the brain and learning have shown that it is not true that the aging brain necessarily deteriorates. It is also now known that one can continue learning all of one's life, barring of course actual brain damage, which can occur at any age.
Many older people have more leisure time and more opportunities to learn than ever before. Most have always wished they had the opportunity to learn more. Many have felt disadvantaged because of negative experiences in their youth.
Learning should be a joyful experience, though it may not have been so in the past. Older women, perhaps alone and bored, are kept from going to classes because of the 'old dog' myth. If they could be convinced that classes could open new doors for them, and be an adventure, think what it would mean. Longer, happier lives, I'm sure. The life-enhancing possibilities are endless and the door is open - as long as we keep it from being slammed shut by the acceptance of untrue and negative myths.
Jean Buzan, Dip. Ad. Ed., M.A., attended university for the first time while in her fifties. She studied at the University of British Columbia. Thereafter she became Chairperson of Gerontology at Douglas College and initiated studies in the subject in 1973. She 'retired' in 1981 and at 65 is now a freelance consultant and lecturer in Canada and abroad. She is currently writing a book about gerontology.