A 2007 study conducted by Road Scholar, a not-for-profit leader in lifelong learning, determined the need for a nuanced approach of the “use it or lose it” school of thought regarding successful aging. The study, entitled Mental Stimulation and Lifelong Learning Activities in the 55+ Population, finds the ideal way to achieve successful aging is through a “balanced program of brain exercise involving activities blending mental stimulation, social engagement, physical activity and creative expression.”
With the exception of physical activity, senior participants in People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos engage in each component of brain exercise through the reading of literature, lively group discussion and creative, critical thinking.
Likewise, in a study sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, the late Dr. Gene D. Cohen, past Director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, found significant health-related benefits for seniors who participate in creative fitness regimens, such as poetry, art, music and dance programs. After a year, those participating in cultural programs reported “an increase in overall health,” as well as less depression, less loneliness and higher morale. Seniors whose psychosocial needs remain unmet are prone to higher psychological distress, a lower sense of control, lower self-rated health, and a smaller social network. Brain exercises—specifically those involving the arts and social interaction—play a significant role in seniors’ mental and physical health.
In support, Barbara Stender, Coordinator of Senior Well-Being Programs of Greater Trenton Behavioral Health Care, affirms, “Surprising new evidence reveals that discussion programs for seniors are far more beneficial than we had realized. Seniors need to talk for their mental health. They want to leave a legacy by telling their story.”
People & Stories / Gente y Cuentos offers distinct benefits for seniors:
- The aural component of our program ensures that seniors with vision problems can enjoy being read to by a trained coordinator.
- We use large print stories for many of our senior groups.
- During the literary discussion, seniors often share their memories and personal stories that connect to the story read in the session, thus fortifying social connectedness and cognitive flexibility as seniors find their “story” reflected in the character’s lives and in the other participants sitting in the circle.
- Neurons in the brain are stimulated and strengthened as senior participants “bump up against people and ideas that are different” . (Click to read NY Times article, “How To Train the Aging Brain” by Barbara Strauch).
For further reading:
Cohen, Gene D. “Research on Creativity and Aging: The Positive Impact of the Arts on Health and Illness” Volume XXX, Number I (2006): 7-15.