Few things keep Janet Papelian from attending “dancercise” and aerobics classes at the Coral Gables Youth Center four times a week. Certainly not her age.
The 75-year-old says she feels more like a 50-year-old.
Papelian also enjoys the “Current Events” class offered at the center, which covers news items and encourages discussion, helping to keep the mind engaged.
“The classes are very, very good and exactly what people like us [seniors] need,” she said.
Many studies have linked longevity to maintaining a healthy body and mind. When it comes to the mind, many factors play a role, including genetics, lifestyle, diabetes, head traumas, and drug use.
“The brain is unique in that we are born with all the cells we’re going to have, and we lose some everyday,” said Dr. Allan Herskowitz, medical director of Neurological Services at Baptist Health Neuroscience Center. “There are many factors that all play a role in cells deteriorating at a higher rate.”
So what can a healthy person do to keep the mind sharp for as long as possible?
Herskowitz advises staying physically active and “exercising the brain.”
In South Florida, several centers and institutions offer a variety of classes, workshops and activities especially designed for seniors. And it doesn’t have to be costly.
The Alliance for Aging serving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, part of a national network of private nonprofits, provides a wide range of services and referrals for elders and caregivers. The organization especially focuses on serving low-income individuals.
At the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Kendall, most of the “Enrichment & Support” classes, such as “Meditate On It” for beginners, “Grandparents Raising Kids” and a women’s group, to name a few, are free and open to everyone.
The JCC’s Senior Adult Program, which requires a membership fee adjusted according to family size and socioeconomic status, features a sing-along class and discussion groups, among other options.
“The discussion groups are so good,” said Ilene Primack, JCC’s Senior Adult Programs coordinator. “They are intellectually stimulating.”
At the University of Miami’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), six-week sessions are available in art, history, languages, literature, and more at either the Coral Gables campus or Northeast Miami-Dade locations. There is a $30 annual membership to join and there is an individual fee per class. In addition to classes, experts from different fields give lectures, which are free for members.
“I think what makes OLLI unique is that we encourage members to take ownership of the institute,” said Julia Cayuso, OLLI’s director.
One of the most popular classes, Triumph and Tragedy – The Lives of Great Men, is taught by actor/historian Robert Dawson, who dresses up as historical figures and uses props to bring history to life.
“It’s almost like being at a play,” said Helen Mendel, a retired educator.
She’s currently taking an art history class on Leonardo Da Vinci at one of OLLI’s outreach centers in North Bay Village.
If state of the mind is key to aging well, Dr. Helen Mendes Love might be on the right track.
She recently published her third book, Reflections on the Upsides of Aging: Living with Joy and Purpose After Age 50.
Love is a social worker and faith-based counselor in Humble, Texas.
“Among the most effective ways to maintain an active, healthy mind as you age is to make a commitment to do so. Decide to be a lifelonglearner.”