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Learning to be the best you

The life long journey to healthy aging
Revera’s Six Dimensions of Wellness is a holistic approach to health and wellness that includes: physical, social, intellectual, emotional, spiritual and community engagement.  

When it comes to healthy aging, it’s necessary to design programs that consider the stimulation of the mind, body and soul. The mind, just like a muscle, needs to be exercised regularly in order to perform at its best. Learning doesn’t end when you finish school or set out on your career. It’s a life-long journey and continues well beyond the day you retire.

“Older people have a tendency to shrink their field of interest and concentrate on their bodies and their aches,” says Dr. Laila Sekla-Farag, a resident at Revera’s Portsmouth Retirement Residence in Winnipeg. At 87 years old, Dr. Sekla-Farag retains a thirst for knowledge in a wide range of topics such as medicine, the cosmos, ancient history, religion and world politics.
“People who want to learn have this tenacity for life and it gets them excited for what’s to come.”
Abe Posen, another resident at Portsmouth, sees intellectual stimulation as a defence against decline. The 96-year-old retired chartered accountant says, “with hearing loss and memory problems getting worse with time, I feel reading, crosswords, puzzles and other mental stimulation might help ward off some future problems.”

A challenge facing people putting together intellectual programs is that no two people are alike, and you need to reflect the diversity of interests to appeal to the individual. Krysten Neufeld has been the Director of Recreation at Portsmouth for four years. She says the intellectual programs are some of the most well-attended programs and explains that residents get a lot from them. “People who want to learn have this tenacity for life and it gets them excited for what’s to come.”

As part of this programming, Neufeld invites experts, such as university professors, to give talks to the residents on subjects ranging from religion, economics, politics and environmental issues. She says that speakers are often impressed by just how engaged the residents are with the subjects and enjoy the thought-provoking conversations that these talks spark.

“I find that these programs build a community within our community because it allows residents to converse with each other at a different level than just ‘how’s your day going,’” says Neufeld. “They ask ‘what do you think about this topic?’ They’re not just interested in learning for themselves. They’re interested in engaging with their neighbours on different subjects.”

“You can teach an old dog new tricks,” says Robert Gardner, an 81-year-old retired math teacher. He’s been living at Portsmouth for nearly two years and says he enjoys participating in the intellectual programs because they keep his brain active and it allows him to learn new things.

Keeping up to date on current events is important for the residents at Portsmouth. “The world around us is changing constantly and we need to keep up with it. We need to be able to communicate with people around us,” says Dr. Sekla-Farag.

It’s this idea of staying current and well-informed that inspires Neufeld. “The residents are more engaged in their community and what’s going on in the world around them. They’re more aware citizens. It’s important to me that they can make informed decisions on what’s going on in the world. They’re all independent people and can make decisions for themselves.”

Intellectual stagnation and complacency are critical threats to healthy aging. You’re never too old to learn something new. It’s important that as we age we continue to aspire to grow to be the person we want to be. Learning and intellectual stimulation is the key to that personal development, whether you’re 24 or 84.