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and Nat have always been involved in community organizing. In Los Angeles,
they helped form a continuing education program for seniors. When they
retired and moved to Berkeley, they were disappointed with the local resources
for seniors, so they decided to create their own community of learners.
After researching programs across the country, Sylvia and Nat decided
to take advantage of their contacts in the academic world. Having U.C.
Berkeley in the neighborhood meant they could get a wide variety of speakers
for their classes.
The first few meetings
of the group, formally called Alternative Lifelong Learning (ALL), were
held in the houses of the five founding members in 1989. Then they hooked
up with the local senior center and began holding classes there. It was
a perfect match. The center could provide free meeting space, and the
center director wanted to attract active seniors who could inspire other
clients, many of them frail and elderly, to get involved. "It took
off like wildfire," Nat says. "It really filled a need in the
community." Membership is now at 250 and growing.
The core of ALL is
the ongoing lecture series, some taught by members, others by outside
experts who all speak for free. Lectures have covered everything from
Hollywood to the ethics of cloning; from early twentieth-century architecture
to growing up Jewish in China.The social interaction is perhaps the most
impressive part of ALL meetings. Members are not passively absorbing information,
they're sharing their knowledge, recalling past experiences, and challenging
The buzz and energy
of the meetings attract new members, many of them eager to become part
of the social scene, says Sylvia. But unless new members have a real desire
to learn, they'll quickly drop out. "We've heard the complaint, 'You
people are too smart for me,' " Sylvia says. "Those people leave
and join other groups. Once we had a series on biophysics and a woman
admitted she couldn't understand very much of the lecture. 'But,' she
said, 'It felt so good to sit there and use my brain to try and understand
it.' That's why we're there—to fill the gaps in knowledge for the
things we never had time to learn. In a way, it's a luxury."
and the Brain
Regular exercise can improve some mental abilities
by an average of 20–30 percent. It also keeps you healthy
and may help prevent strokes and other circulation disorders that
can cause brain damage. "When you exercise, you're pumping
more blood everywhere and keeping the plumbing from getting clogged
up," says Art Shimamura, memory expert at UC Berkeley.
is about the worst thing you can do to your brain, says Art Shimamura,
yet many people isolate themselves when they retire. Memory never
really takes hold unless you discuss experiences with others.
Talking with friends about the plot of a book or sharing your
feelings about a good movie requires that you organize information
and relate the parts you think were most important. That creates
new connections in the brain and strengthens your memory. You
also keep in touch with your own life stories by sharing them
is a great memory aid. Writing things in an appointment book means
you don't have to actively remember when you've scheduled meetings
or activities. Similarly, having a dedicated place in your home
for car keys or always parking in a consistent spot at work helps
free your mind to focus on other things.
Don't Always Retire When You Do
memory skills you have when you're older depend, in large part,
on how much you used them during your working life and how much
you continue using them. Studies suggest that some of the memory
lapses older people complain about are not inevitable. By exercising
your brain—through continuing education or even by doing
crossword puzzles—there's evidence that older people can
keep mentally fit.
Aren't Always Bad
people retire, they often give up the daily rhythms that anchored
their lives. A daily routine gives you the structure on which
to hang your memories. Having someplace to go every day, whether
it's work or school or a community center, helps keep people connected
with everyday life and their own memories.
formed early in life can be among the most enduring. As we age,
the part of the brain responsible for helping record new memories
becomes less efficient. New information has more difficulty getting
in, but memories that were stored in the past can remain intact.
It's one of the reasons elderly people often remember startling
details about their youth but sometimes forget what they had for
dinner the night before.