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Intellectual health essential part of Topeka’s approach to wellness

Society tells two stories about how aging affects the brain. We praise the wisdom of older adults, accrued through decades of life experience. At the same time, we accept that cognitive decline is inevitable in our older years.

Increasingly, scientific research supports the first story and casts doubt on the latter.

“While it’s tempting to focus on the flaws in older brains, that inducement overlooks how capable they’ve become,” writes Barbara Strauch for the New York Times. “Over the past several years, scientists have looked deeper into how brains age and confirmed that they continue to develop through and beyond middle age.”

That consistent development leads to the kind of insight younger people lack. That’s something staff at Topeka Presbyterian Manor know well. Over and over, staff members talk about how blessed they feel to benefit from the wisdom of the community’s residents.

“The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding,” says Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, who has studied ways to teach adults effectively.

That doesn’t mean that cognition remains the same throughout a lifetime. Taylor acknowledges that adult brains may not learn as fast as younger ones — the tradeoff for the wisdom we acquire with age.

Fortunately, we can attend to our intellectual health just as we care for other aspects of our well-being. Just as moderate exercise benefits physical health and regular contact with loved ones supports social health, there are many techniques that benefit cognitive function. These include engaging with new ideas and being involved in community.

Taylor says that simply learning new facts isn’t enough. If you really want to stimulate the brain, you need to “bump up against” new ideas. The library at Topeka Presbyterian Manor is the perfect place to challenge your brain. The library, which is located on the main floor, is open to all residents and includes a selection of large print books.

The life enrichment staff offers a wide variety of activities, which give residents opportunities to be in community with each other. These include bingo, singing, Bible study, and crafts.

Residents can peruse The Daily Chronicle, a puzzle page distributed on a daily basis by the life enrichment staff. Residents can enjoy a variety of activities which may include word search, interesting facts and “on this day” historical tidbits. The regular activity schedule provides a routine that gives residents plenty of choices.

“We know that every interaction benefits our residents’ intellectual health,” said Alyssa Colter, life enrichment director. “Every conversation, activity, and care performed stimulates their mind and well-being.”

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