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The Benefits of Lifelong Learning for Seniors

In the 1990s, brain research showed that a stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and helps us retain mental alertness as we age. In fact, scientists discovered that even an aging brain can grow new connections and pathways when challenged and stimulated. It appears that learning new skills or taking up new hobbies can help boost memory and improve quality of life.

  • In 2001, a research study by neurologists at Case Western Reserve University found that seniors who engaged in mentally challenging or intellectually stimulating activities were 2.5 times less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A similar study at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School also found that seniors who enjoyed higher levels of intellectual stimulation throughout their lifetimes had a marked delay in the onset of memory problems and dementia-related symptoms.
  • Researchers in the U.K. found that reading lowers stress levels, slows heart rate and eases muscle tension. Reduced stress is significant because it decreases blood pressure, reduces risk of stroke or heart attack, boosts immunity, and lowers levels of depression.

Our retirement years present an excellent opportunity to take advantage of free time to learn about subjects of long-time interest or learn something new. It is no longer unusual for older adults to advance their education by attending and graduating college or pursuing a graduate degree. Enriching and stimulating one’s mind and overall outlook on life is what lifelong learning is all about.

In addition to keeping brains more nimble, certain lifelong learning activities keep the body active, such as creative arts or mindfulness programs. Lifelong learning programs also offer opportunities to socialize, whether those happen during discussion groups, educational field trips or arts presentations with like-minded individuals.

Community colleges, senior centers, and others offer many classes for seniors, who can explore topics of interest through survey courses and seminars. Lucky for our residents, the JCHC also offers a variety of enriching educational and enrichment programs right in our senior living communities. These include:

  • Creative arts classes – poetry and memoir writing, fine arts, and floral art
  • JCHC University – this past semester, courses were taught by college-level instructors who covered politics and government, literature, the arts, critical thinking, and family dynamics in the Torah
  • Art appreciation lectures and cultural presentations
  • Field trips to area museums and attraction
  • Lifelong Learning – a program run by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Joint Chaplaincy Committee in partnership with the JCHC

Lifelong Learning was conceived and launched in 2011 by Jay Murnick, a past president of the JCHC board of trustees, to provide continued Jewish learning to our seniors on a variety of Jewish-themed topics. The weekly educational program, which changes every year, is taught by community teachers, rabbis, and cantors. Every year; participating seniors study Jewish texts and discuss a variety of topics that interest them.

In addition, our communities offer discussion groups about current affairs and other areas of interest, and various clubs that enable our residents to broaden their horizons or participate in activities they’ve long enjoyed. From mindfulness to knitting to walking, we’re always finding ways to keep our seniors active in mind and body at the JCHC.

Music is Good for the Soul—and Health—at Any Age

As babies, we fell asleep to lullabies. As young children, many of us enjoyed banging on drums and participating in singalongs. When we got older, we danced to popular tunes and turned up the volume in the car radio when a favorite song came on. During one’s retirement years, there are many reasons to continue enjoying music.

From piano concerts to drum circles, listening to and participating in musical activities have been shown to be quite beneficial to older adults. Music helps relieve stress and may sharpen cognition. It’s a big factor in the success of the Music & Memory® program (which we have implemented in the Memory Care Suite at Lester Senior Living). The American Music Therapy Association cites studies pointing to music activities providing comfort and relief to seniors with dementia.

Listening to music affects our moods, triggers memories, and gets us talking to each other. It has also been shown to reduce pain and recovery time from injury, increase relaxation and lower heart rate, and allow for a better night’s sleep. Music provides motivation when exercising, and dancing to music is great for increasing mobility. Taking music lessons at an older age also helps keep minds sharper as well (as does a great game of “Name that Tune”).

There is research that supports music’s positive effect on mental and physical health, and its value to older people in particular. How many of us can relate to that feeling of well-being as we hum along to a beautiful tune, or that relaxed feeling when we hear a ballad?

At the JCHC, our communities offer residents many ways to enjoy the joys of music, including:

  • Seminars on jazz greats and classical music
  • Live performances by musicians and singers
  • Musical holiday celebrations
  • Presentations on famous composers and different music genres
  • Drum circles, Kids’ Cookies n’ Concerts performances by area students, and dances

The JCHC has also hosted symphony concerts with the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra that were absolute delights for all who attended.

All of these programs, which are often interactive, are always well attended. They are living proof that music is uplifting for everyone in the room—at any age.

A Chance to Plant the Seeds for Future Generations of Our Seniors

With the calendar year ending and tax planning on many people’s minds, it’s a good time to remind our residents, their families and our supporters about JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy giving program.

This philanthropic opportunity enables anyone to make an after-lifetime gift to the JCHC that will support our future residents’ needs and enrich their lives for generations to come.

Making a pledge now to the Circle of Life is a beautiful way to create a lasting legacy and reflect how our communities have touched lives. Your pledge plants the seeds of meaningful tzedakah and anyone of any means can do so. There are several ways in which to make a legacy donation, including:

  • Bequest in your will
  • Designation from a life insurance policy or retirement plan
  • Charitable remainder trust
  • Estate or business interest

To date, 20 individuals have pledged to our Circle of Life with planned gifts in excess of $50,000. Pledging any amount to the JCHC’s Circle of Life legacy program will help us fulfill our mission to always provide high-quality senior housing with services that enhance our residents’ lives. You’ll be making a lasting impact with your testamentary gift and by donating to the JCHC, a non-profit organization, your estate will be making a charitable tax-advantaged contribution.

As you sit down with your tax or estate planning professional, we invite you to discuss how becoming a Circle of Life legacy donor can make a difference to your estate and our residents and support what is important to you. To learn more, visit www.jchcorp.org/legacyprogram or contact Harold Colton-Max at haroldc@richardc95.sg-host.com or (973) 530-3961.