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Countless opportunities exist to stretch an aging mind

Let's create a hypothetical person in her 70s. Let's offer her new ways to live life to its fullest. We'll call her "Alice," which, by the way, is the most common name for an older adult woman. According to one source, 11.4 percent of women of a sample of 1,400 aging women were named Alice. Ada and Pearl also were popular. But, today, we are focused on Alice.

Like many 70-year-olds, Alice is looking for something but not entirely sure what that is. She wants to make her days more interesting, engage in continuous learning and maybe have a few small adventures.

Alice is weary, she feels boxed in, probably because she's involved in caregiving for a spouse who has dementia — Alzheimer's disease (AD), to be specific. "Dementia" is the umbrella term, and AD is one of more than 100 forms of dementia. Anyone in a caregiving situation of any kind can empathize with Alice.

To help her out, we could suggest that she seek out an evidence-based program called STAR-C. It was developed and tested at the University of Washington and is now locally provided (without cost). It offers trained problem-solving consultation with caregiving challenges and frustrations. A call to 541-471-2863 or an email (carol.a.terry@state.or.us) will get things started.

If she can put her caregiving obligations in a better place, Alice may be ready to take some classes that get her out of the house and closer to those small adventures. Then we could suggest that she join OLLI (Osher Life-Long Learning Institute), Southern Oregon University's well-regarded educational program where members both learn and teach. A simple query (www.sou.edu/olli) opens the door. The OLLI philosophy is "a mind once stretched by new ideas never regains its original dimensions."

Once you start down this path, there are countless opportunities to stretch an aging mind. Alice might register for an Oregon State University Extension class. There's one March 20 titled "Who Gets Grandma's Yellow Pie Plate?" It could assist her in figuring out what to do with her houseful of accumulated possessions that will, at some point, have to be parceled out to her children and grandchildren. (http://extension.oregonstate.edu/sorec or 541-776-7371).

OSU Extension also offers Tuft's University Strong Women strength-training classes, taught by an incredible group of certified volunteers, many of whom are Alice's age peers. If she elects to begin strength-training classes two or three times a week, she would also find a built-in support group. This program involves a different kind of stretching — and it's good for both mind and body.

OSU also offers a bevy of classes taught by a glorious group of Family Food Education volunteers, including one on gluten-free eating (what women in her 70s has not thought about the possibility that gluten might be the cause of life-long stomach distress?).

Whether you're in your seventh decade or well beyond, the possibilities for new learning and more supportive connections are endless. If you are like Alice, a caregiver for someone with dementia, these are not just ideas — these may be life-saving imperatives. Start with the call to STAR-C (541-471-2863).

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in health and human sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension. Email her at s.johnson@oregonstate.edu or call 541-776-7371, ext. 210.