When It Comes To Wellness And Aging, It’s Use It Or Lose It

Local options for lifelong learning help seniors age healthfully.

Most older adults know that staying physically active is important for healthy aging. But exercising the mind is also crucial. “Anything you do to exercise your mind is money in the emotional and cognitive bank,” says Patricia Tomasso, PhD, a clinical psychologist in White Plains who specializes in working with older adults. “Studies have shown that the more you find intellectual, social, and cultural stimulation, the more likely you are to age in a healthy way.” Fortunately, opportunities for lifelong learning, specifically geared toward seniors, abound locally. 

Class Acts: Academic Programs

Affiliated with the well-regarded Elderhostel Institute Network, Learning in Retirement at Iona College in New Rochelle offers a program of courses four days a week taught by Iona faculty and community experts. Janice Cohen of Scarsdale, a member for five years, recalls a particularly fascinating lecture called “Is There An Afterlife?” by a Sarah Lawrence physics professor who had once been a monk. A full-year membership is $175 per person; half-year is $100. 

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Westchester Community College in Valhalla also offers two respected programs for seniors—Mainstream, the Institute for Mature Adults “covers all the stuff you want to know and should know with fun things like music, painting, and social networking to how to do your taxes or look for a job online,” explains its director, Judith Kelson. Classes start at $20 for a one-session intro to mindfulness and meditation; two-day sessions in memoir writing start at $135. The Collegium for Lifelong Learning offers more serious study combined with social exchange. Qualified volunteers lead classes in topics ranging from American history to music. The program runs two full days in six-week fall and spring semesters and is $205 for Wednesdays and $180 for Fridays.

For Art’s Sake: Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts Programs

The White Plains-based ArtsWestchester’s Artist Residencies program works to promote a sense of community among economically disadvantaged seniors; suggestions for program sites are made by the county department of aging. “Participants who don’t have many resources and have mobility and memory issues are often in their own apartments 24/7,” explains CEO Janet Langsam. “Artist Residencies encourage socialization and sharing new experiences among people who might not otherwise even know their neighbors.” Free weekly classes—usually for eight to 10 weeks—in anything from African dance to storytelling are offered by one of more than 100 professional visual, literary, and performing artists. 

Lifetime Arts of New Rochelle launched its Creative Aging in America’s Libraries project in 2008 to provide instructional art programs. Locally, the Bronxville, Dobbs Ferry, Harrison, Hendrick Hudson, and White Plains libraries now offer or will implement the program by the summer of 2016. Eight-week classes—free to those 55 and older—are sequential in nature, building skills over time and encouraging social engagement centered around making art. 

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