Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

Lifelong Living
Brain Health and Aging

What is brain health? How does brain health compare to physical health? Brain health is keeping the mind stimulated in the attempt to sustain mental well-being. When we talk about health, we tend to concentrate on the importance of physical health. Recently more and more studies are uncovering the equally significant role that brain health plays on overall health. “Brain–healthy life styles have demonstrated a relationship to reduction of dementia and to increasing our chance for independence into later stages of life.” (Paul Nussbaum: Activity and Brain Health, 2006 Career Planning and Adult Development Journal)

As the quote above suggests, in today’s world healthy aging is more than just maintaining physical health. Longer life spans, although desired, open the doors to a myriad of other concerns. As we live longer the duration of our retirement years are also elongated. 1) What will we do? 2) How can we afford to do what we want to do? 3) What kind of meaningful experiences can we have in later life? 4) If our physical health declines, how can we still find fulfillment? 5) We did not plan to live so long. Will we outlive our retirement funds and if so, how can we still support our needs and interests?

Although crucial, money alone is not enough to sustain us through this new extended stage of life. Even for those who have reasonable fixed incomes, money does not alleviate the onset of depression, dementia or chronic/ debilitating illness that sometimes accompanies the later phases of our lives. We are still a youth oriented culture that overlooks the contributions older adults can still make. With the booming increase of the 60+ population coupled with longer life spans, we are at the threshold of redefining the aging process.

Life Long Learning (LLL) can counteract some of these challenges presented by this new era of aging. LLL is all about brain health. LLL is founded on the premise that regardless of age and/or ability, everyone can learn at all stages of life. LLL stimulates the brain when work and family are no longer our primary sources of stimulation. LLL offers opportunities to meet new friends and reconnect with former acquaintances. LLL affords the opportunity to explore new hobbies/interests or return to those we put on hold earlier in our lives. LLL gives us the opportunity to feel a part of what is happening in the world at large. LLL gives meaning and purpose to later stages of life. In fact, LLL can offer older adults the opportunity to teach their trade, hobby or profession to their peers or younger generations.

LLL opportunities are emerging everywhere for those who are independent as well as those in restricted settings. From libraries, to high schools, college campuses, apartment complexes, 55+ communities, community centers, places of worship, Assisted Living facilities and Skilled Nursing Care sites, affordable classes and experiences are available.

In a recent survey of 200 members of our constituency, average age 75+, LLL was touted as one of the most important components of their current lifestyle. Overwhelmingly the data collected supported the importance of brain health in addition to physical health. For example: “Since I am having some physical problems, keeping my brain stimulated is really important for my sanity.” Another student commented: “Mental stimulation exerts such a profound feeling of joy – such a help among an older population often overlooked.” A longtime student wrote: “Depression occurs often in older age: LLL improves my attitude.” Finally, a student who attends several classes a week wrote: “I need LLL classes to give me the energy to start each day with a smile.”

Did you know New Jersey ranks 9th in the United States for individuals age 65+? Did you know that 85+ is the fastest growing cohort in the 65+ category? (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, 2002 Report) The older population in New Jersey is a force to reckon with.

Let’s change the face of aging together. Investigate what LLL classes are offered in your community. Brain health is not just about classes. Start doing crossword puzzles. Learn Bridge, the thinking person’s card game. Teach your grandchild chess. Take that painting class you always dreamed of. Learn how to use that computer your children gave you. Join a book club. Start a book club. The possibilities of Life Long Learning are endless.

As one respondent to our survey said so eloquently; “LLL is the lifeline for many seniors and retirees.” Find your path to a brain healthy life style through LLL.

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