“Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” – Author Betty Friedan
The common misconception is that older adults are “set in their ways”, and that once you reach a certain age, learning something new becomes difficult if not impossible. Think of the old adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
That’s proving to be absolutely wrong. Research into aging by Dr. Gene Cohen, a pioneer in the work around creativity and aging, said that research “vividly demonstrates that when the brain is challenged through our activities and surroundings, it is altered through the formation of new synapses (contact points between cells). More synapses means better communication among brain cells and increased opportunities for new ideas connecting.”
United’s residents are confirming Dr. Cohen’s findings every day.
“Dr. Cohen broke older age into several stages,” said Gail Hinchliffe, president, United Active Living. “For instance, in our late 60s we start thinking, ‘If not now, when?’ and later our focus is on leaving a legacy; not necessarily money, but we have a wealth of experience that we want to pass on. Our programs capitalize on Cohen’s work. It’s not about warehousing people but about how to provide opportunities for an older population to continue to grow and develop.”
That view is evident in the programs and activities that United Active Living offers residents. Our philosophy promotes healthy and active aging. And that means endless opportunities to continuously learn new things. For many, this period of life might be the first time they have found the freedom to pursue interests that were set aside for family and career.
“We will often hear residents say, ‘why did it take me until 85 to realize that I’m an artist?’ There is nothing we like more than to hear the surprised adult children say ‘I didn’t know mom (or dad) was interested in that!’
“To be able to learn new skills is very, very powerful,” said Gail, “particularly in a society that tends to diminish our abilities as we get older.”
United’s programs and activities are created with input from residents. They are interesting and fun, but also thought provoking and challenging. United’s programming is unique in that it offers a wide variety of experiences.
At last count there were more than 60 activities and programs available to residents. Community partnerships also offer experiences outside the community that many residents may not have been exposed to before or have had to stop attending for various reasons.
“It’s easy for our residents to get on the bus and attend a concert. We also have musicians come into our communities to perform and talk about the music, so it’s a very rich experience,” said Gail. “Our programming has evolved to where we hire professional artists who give our residents a depth of knowledge not available anywhere else. I really love is to see a resident come in who has been isolated in their home, and hasn’t had that social interaction or that sense of community. As they come into this community, other residents and the staff reach out to welcome them. They become involved in the activities and programs. It is such a wonderful thing to see their faces knowing that they’ve found that sense of community again.”
Gail talks about the ability of older adults to learn in a 10-minute audio interview available here.
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