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A flash of insight

I am having an epiphany. Ever have one? They're usually described as moments of "unanticipated awareness." You see something in a whole new light. You have a sudden flash that resembles (dare I say it) brilliance.

This epiphany happened when I was in the middle of teaching a series of five classes called 'Mastery of Aging Well.' I have mentioned this before. Over the past year I developed an online (computer-based) series of courses joined by colleagues at Oregon State University. Check it out at http://outreach.oregonstate.edu/aging-well. It's there for the taking — my gift to you.

I'm told the site gets 14 to 20 "hits" a day. It's easy-listening, research-based information. Instructional designers at Oregon State University are turning the entire five-series package into a DVD, so, if you are not computer-comfy, you have viewing options. But that's another column for another day.

Let's return to the classroom. This series of classes uses the online Mastery of Aging Well "show" and presents it to a receptive group of learners. They are all members of Southern Oregon University's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. These are bright and engaging older adults, and I am honored to be providing them with instruction. We are learning together.

We view one module each week (last week it was "Depression in Later Life), which is not necessarily a warm-and-wonderful topic, but we had some actual fun with it. (The week prior, our discussion was about "Memory Difficulties.") Together we look at colorfully narrated information and talk about our own personal 'take" on the subject. I have a wonderful co-facilitator. We think of it as a video book club.

And that's the idea — i.e. the epiphany. I want to launch video book clubs that offer well-presented ideas about "aging well" using the Mastery of Aging Well series as a point of departure. I envision people inviting a few friends and neighbors into their homes to watch one of the modules. I can see it now — energizing discussions about aging well occurring over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

My idea is based on the hard-to-dispute premise that we are all aging — and prefer to do it not just well, but magnificently. Don't we? Why wouldn't we? And we cannot do that alone; we need to have reliable information as a starting point, but even more importantly we need to bounce ideas off each other — share our own experiences and tell our stories.

I recall sitting in my Aunt Ethel's living room a few years ago while a group of her 80-year-old friends were talking about their hearing challenges — they had all seen a televised news item about digital hearing aids, and it prompted them to chat about that topic. They shared their personal approaches to the problem, including what to do if the device makes your ear itch ("baby oil on a Q-tip dabbed on the site"), and demonstrated their preferred lip-reading techniques. They gave extraordinary comfort to one of their number who was frustrated and frightened.

It was an impactful and powerful exchange — and years later it turned into my epiphany.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. E-mail her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 776-7371, Ext. 210.