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Peer University

Aging Matters “Peer University”™ is a unique proprietary service that – as far as we are aware – only our company offers.  It is a service that can deeply enhance the quality of life of older adults.  It is also a service that can greatly enhance the marketing appeal of senior living residences, especially for the upcoming generation of Baby Boomers.  This service is especially suited to independent living residences and communities, although it can be adapted and applied in modified form for assisted living, and even skilled nursing facilities.

Why a Peer University? – Reversing Marginalization

The motivating premise of our Peer University program is that aging matters because elders are wise.  Older adults have mature life skills, intellectual knowledge, cultural talents, and the benefits of perspective, which they have honed through years of experience with life and its vicissitudes.  Moreover, older adults wish and need to remain “generative” – to be productive community members and contributors to society – in spite of whatever limitations their infirmities impose.  Older adults have great wisdom, and they want to employ it in the service of others.

The wisdom of elders was typically honored, and indeed revered, in traditional pre-industrial societies.  Unfortunately, as industrialization intensified and spread, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, older adults were largely unseated from their positions of honor, and became increasingly marginalized.  There have always been the lucky few – the exceptionally talented, famous, wealthy or otherwise blessed – who have found ways of preserving efficacy and respect in the world even into extreme old age.  But they have been the rare exceptions.  Most senior citizens became increasingly marginalized – sometimes warehoused and virtually discarded – for much of the twentieth century.  More recently – coinciding with (and perhaps in part due to) the emergence of a post-industrial information culture – this alarming tendency to marginalize the aged has begun to slow, and perhaps reverse. 

Still, much remains to be done to once again honor the wisdom of older adults and re-include them as respected contributors to society.  And the Baby Boom generation is set to demand just that, as they enter retirement age and beyond.  The senior residences and communities that appreciate this emerging dynamic and take initiative to address this growing need will be better prepared to market themselves and offer quality service to the next generation of seniors.  One such service, specifically tailored to do just that, is our idea of a Peer University.

Developing a Peer University – Experiential Wisdom

Aging Matters provides a consulting program that enables forward-thinking senior facilities to develop their own “Peer University”.  But what does that mean?  Most obviously, it means developing a college-like learning environment within the facility itself.  More uniquely, it means relying on the methods of contemporary adult education, not traditional academic education.  Older adults are interested in what “the experts” have to say, but they tend to be more motivated by what they have learned from life experience.  And, if properly facilitated, they can be deeply engaged in a process of “peer learning” - where they mutually learn from and teach each other on the basis of their life experience. 

The members of a Peer University can teach and learn as they choose, based on their individual and group preferences:  e.g., about the arts (e.g., visual, musical, theatrical, literary, etc), humanities (history, politics, economics, religion, social issues, etc), the natural world (ecology, geology, botany, zoology, astronomy, cosmology, etc), and just as importantly, about the professions and practical occupations that many have worked at for so many years (healthcare, social service, law, journalism, management, and the myriad forms of business, etc).  The potential topics are virtually limitless, just as they are in a university - with the actual topics dictated by individual and group preferences and choice.

This is the key operating premise of our Peer University – it is a “university of peers” where the faculty (and administration) are also the students.  Aging Matters offers a consulting program that enables senior facilities, or more precisely the senior residents of those facilities, to develop and operate a college-like learning program, largely by and for themselves.  This university of peers will obviously need certain kinds of support from the facility’s administration and staff.  And, the peers are always free to invite outside experts as “guest faculty”.  But the seniors themselves are the core faculty, and also the decision-making administrators – in addition to being the primary student body.

Leveraging a Peer University – Mentorship to Society

Developing and running a Peer University is valuable as an end in itself.  But that value can be further leveraged by putting it to wider use.  Once a Peer University is up and running within a senior residence or community, the wisdom that it nurtures can be disseminated to the wider community.  Specifically, older adults make excellent mentors.  Their life experience, and the perspective that brings, is a natural fit for mentorship.  When older adults remain connected (or get re-connected) with the talents, skills and knowledge they developed over a lifetime, they realize that they have great gifts to give.  Mentorship is a deeply generative, meaningful and joyful way to give.  Aging Matters offers a consulting program that trains older adults to be effective mentors.  We can also help to build community relationships with organizations that are looking for mentors. 

There are many organizations that are looking for volunteer mentors to match with learners across the lifespan.  Some are organizations that service youth – e.g., schools, pre-schools and after-school programs, foster care agencies, big-brother programs, etc.  Some are organizations that focus on young adults – colleges, technical schools, the military, career guidance programs, etc.  Others are organizations composed of adult workers in the prime of life – e.g., a select group of forward-thinking non-profits and corporations who recognize that external mentors are an invaluable aid to support and develop their employees.  And some are organizations that serve older adults – e.g., senior citizen centers, adult day programs, home companion or community escort services, cultural programs, etc.  In addition, non-profits are frequently looking for volunteers to perform a wide range of jobs (other than mentorship).  Some of these are jobs that older adults can do quite well, and that they would relish as a meaningful contribution to society. 

A Peer University can remain self-contained, and that in itself will prove rewarding.  It need not undertake the additional step of offering mentorship to society at large.  But if (and to the extent that) mentorship is embraced, older adults will begin to reclaim their previously honored place in society as the holders and sharers of experiential wisdom – thereby demonstrating in the clearest possible terms that aging truly matters.


In everything we do for our clients – whether individuals or facilities – we bring our person-centered approach, and we walk our talk:  that aging truly matters.

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