Never too old to learn

Family Health Diary

My 93 year old dad’s mobile phone recently gave up. It had been a faithful piece of equipment for quite some years.  Although it was not something he regularly used, now he was devoid of one he definitely needed to find a new one, no question there, but what sort? Off we trooped to scout the options.

It turned out it was really a smart phone or a smart phone. We investigated the ‘non smart’ options, as he thought they’d be simpler, but in fact they seemed too complicated. Instead the smart phone is easier than he thought.  Through it he’s learning new ways to communicate, new things to read and view, and mastering new skills. Yep, an old dog can learn new tricks – and they should. It helps us stay vital as we age.

Staying sharp as we enter our senior years has a lot to do with how you fared health wise in the previous decades, of course, and no undoing that at the 11th hour. However, there’s a handful of take home tips that could help keep you in good shape. The first five, are probably things you’ve heard at every other stage of the life cycle:

  1. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check
  2. Don’t smoke
  3. Be moderate with alcohol
  4. Get some exercise
  5. Eat well

But number 6… here’s a chance to incorporate something new in your life.

  1. Stimulate the grey matter to keep your brain engaged – keep up with social interaction, learn something new, play challenging games.


This is because research is showing that people who are socially and intellectually involved are perhaps less likely to develop dementia, so that in itself is a very good motivator.  But regardless, feeling vital, involved and having new things to do and look forward to, is surely a recipe for feeling better about yourself, as opposed to marking time. Or as my father put it– I don’t just want to be in the holding paddock for the funeral director.

For him, he has now been on his own for the first time in almost 60 years, after my mum died earlier this year. Losing her and living on your own is a double whammy. He’s doing remarkably well and with four ‘children’ (there is no word for adult children!) and a bevy of grandchildren in regular touch, there’s a few interested parties to make sure he’s ok.

Community groups like Residents and Ratepayers, Probus and Rotary are ‘connectors’ to the community you live in. So too are local CABS, school adult learning night classes and libraries where various community groups can often be located. I know my mother used to enjoy a senior ladies swimming class once a week and just loved her time with the book group and quilting girls – each a different group to connect with.

The crossword or Sudoku is a winner they reckon to keep the brain firing. So too learning a new language (something that has been on my to-do list for far too long – I’m waiting for the in situ French experience to be the instigator!).

Or even as my father has found – learning his way round a new phone is good for the brain cells. After a few tutorials and practise runs – often from the grandchildren, I was thrilled to get my first text from him, then emails saying ‘sent from my iphone’, stories he thought I might like to look at on the Herald app, and photos from the camera roll. All of which required quite some learning. There was some frustration as he learnt through trial and error but many of these things are now second nature to him…and his extended family all have a new communication options with him.

Next on the senior brain gym plan is the young’uns being taught some skills by the 93 year old. #1: How to strip back and paint a piano for the 26 year old teacher to be’s classroom next year, and #2: how to get an old motorbike working again with the 18 year old grandson. It’ll be a busy garage (and engaged brain) at his place…


Written by Jude Dobson

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