To know how to grow old is the master work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.

Henri Frederic Amiel

The Grandmother Hypothesis

Dr. Bill Thomas, an expert on elderhood and geriatric medicine, writes in What are Old People For?: How Elders Will Save the World that evolutionary theory points to grandmothers as perhaps humankind's greatest competitive adaptation. We are the only species that lives beyond our child-bearing years, and rather than being a burden on primitive human communities, grandmothers may have contributed to reducing infant mortality and therefore the success of our species. Traditionally, elders have played an essential role in developing and transmitting culture, guiding younger generations and providing wisdom.

When one's basic needs for safety, health and connection have been met, many people have both the desire and capacity for life-long learning, staying engaged in their community and contributing to leave a legacy to those whom they love. Technology has opened the doors - from classroom to university - inviting people of all ages to learn, mentor, collaborate and contribute.

For example, the free OpenCourseWare Consortium is a collaboration of higher education institutions from around the world creating a broad and deep body of open educational content using a shared model. The Oregon Community Foundation's "Boomers and Babies" program supports early childhood education across the state by tapping into the growing population of older adults. Closer to home, the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center provides a wide variety of activities, classes and support services.