Am I over the hill? This question is regularly asked among workers over 50 years of age. A common bias is that older adults’ competence and tolerance to stress are steadily decreasing. But mental performance, self-confidence, psychological resilience, and well-being can all improve in the 50s and older. This was demonstrated in a study by researchers from the Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Bonn, which was previously published online at European Journal of Aging. The print edition is expected to be released in December.
Corporate executives worry that older professionals will no longer be able to keep pace with technological innovations. “In the world of work, for a long time, employees have often not been offered any opportunities for further training after the age of 45,” said Prof. Dr Una Rohr Sendelmayer from the Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology at the University of Bonn. studies. “It was assumed that such an investment would not be worthwhile.” This has contrasted with findings from research in developmental psychology, which show that lifelong learning is generally quite possible.
More than 800 participants
In the “Learning in Everyday Action” project (“Lernen im Arbeitsalltag,” LiA), the Röhr-Sendlmeier team studied the effect of private training sessions on mental speed and focus, perception of self-efficacy, self-efficacy, and stress management in more than 800 women and men overweight. They were under 50 years old during the years 2013 to 2019. “It was important to us that in each training session, the content in the different areas of training was presented in a diverse and intertwined way,” first reports author Tanya Huber. For example, physical activation was followed by cognitive training, then skills reinforcement, and after a break, information on the development of stress and relaxation exercises.
The full course consists of five modules administered over two and a half hours per week for 15 weeks: In skills training, participants visualized the skills and professional strengths they had acquired over the course of their lives. Stress management training was about finding individual strategies for dealing with stressful situations. The group trained mental abilities and problem-solving skills using the strategy game “Go”, which was largely unfamiliar to most of them. Memory Strategies were part of another module. Coordination exercises for activation and relaxation exercises to gain strength in everyday life are completed from the program. The control group received no training.
While 397 participants started with the five modules, other groups focused on specific training contents along with physical activation. “We wanted to know the effects of cognitive training, skills training, or stress management training alone,” explains co-author Dr. Udo Kaser. The individual training sessions lasted two hours per week and lasted for seven weeks.
Statistically Measurable Improvements
Immediately after completing the courses and after another 6 months, the team evaluated the effects of the five-module course and the exercises using questionnaires and tests. The results show highly statistically significant improvements. For example, participants’ information processing speed increased on average from 2.42 bits per second before training to 2.65 bits per second after six months of training. In contrast, the control group changed little. The training group’s self-assessment of inner calmness also showed an increase from 4.75 before training to 5.28 on a scale of one to nine. The tendency to give up when faced with failure decreased from 5.12 before training to 4.53.
A post-participation survey showed that over 97 percent of respondents would recommend the training to others. The team has further inquiries from companies about the “Learning in Everyday Work” project. The researchers intend to continue the project beyond the funding period. They are also invited to present their findings at the International Conference on the Future of Preventive Medicine and Public Health in Barcelona, Spain, in March 2023.
A win for employees and companies
“Professionals over 50 years of age gain quality of life, and companies gain the opportunity to offer perspective to these professionals for a longer period of time,” concludes Rohr Sendelmayer. This is a win-win situation – given the demographic change and shortage of skilled workers, it is also of great importance to society as a whole.
The study was funded by the Hans Hermann Voss Foundation.
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