As Americans age, they often complain of mental lapses and fear that they are, quite literally, losing their minds. Although some mental deterioration occurs naturally as we age, it should not greatly alter our lifestyles, experts say, adding that constantly challenging the mind is the best way to keep it healthy and sharp. Seniors can harness the wisdom they have gained with age to cope with minor memory losses.


Most importantly, older adults should be assured that minor memory lapses do not necessarily indicate major health problems. A recent article from the Mayo Clinic states: “Dementia (a mental decline to the point that affects daily activities, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s disease) is more than forgetfulness. Ten percent of people older than 65 get dementia, so most people who occasionally forget things simply have too much on their mind.”


Seniors can compensate for changes in their mental capacity by challenging themselves regularly. To bolster and protect your mind, use it! Try taking a class at the local college, finding a part-time job, learning a new hobby, or simply doing crossword puzzles or reading at home.


From learning a new language to studying business and personal finance, local colleges provide many opportunities for continuing education:


n SMU’s division of Education and Lifelong Learning offers a variety of credit and non-credit courses for older adults. To request a catalog, call 214-768-5376.


n  Richland College ’s Training Source, Continuing Education and Workforce Development, also offers various courses for mature learners. For information, call 972-238-6144.


College courses need not be financially restrictive due to a Texas legislative policy called the Emeritus program. According to the Dallas Aging Information Office’s information directory: “A recent amendment to the Texas Education Code allows an institution to provide six credit hours of study each semester to senior citizens [65 years and older], tuition-free, if space is available in classes.” For adults 55 years and older, tuition may be available at reduced prices.


Because seniors have a wealth of experience to offer the community, many companies look favorably upon hiring experienced workers. Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas can help seniors prepare for the job market through their Senior Connection program. Meeting on the first and third Thursdays of each month, the Senior Connection brings together adults 55 years and older who are entering the job market. To support and prepare group members, meetings discuss resume-building, interviewing skills and myths about older adults in the workforce.


Karen Hughes of Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas says the organization provides aid for seniors at every level of the job search, offering job counseling as well as a job bank. “The camaraderie in the Senior Connection is terrific,” she says. “Group members support each other by helping each other find jobs, and celebrating each other’s successes.”


Dallas employment agency Imprimis also offers a career network, called Primetimers, exclusively for adults over the age of 40. The network places interested workers in full- and part-time positions, and also offers computer training and varying levels of benefits. For information, call 972-419-1700.


Because computers and the Internet dominate so many jobs, some seniors shy away from re-entering the workforce. But several local organizations hold computer courses that teach word-processing and Internet training for potential workers and for those simply looking for personal enrichment. Judy Burke, program coordinator for Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas, says, “There are a lot more free and low-cost computer courses available than when I learned two years ago.”


Burke took courses at a community college but recommends that true beginners visit their local library. Dallas Public Library branches offer basic computer and internet courses regularly. Call the Central Library for branch locations, 214-670-1400. Other, more in-depth, computer courses are available through the Dallas Urban League, 214-915-4600; SeniorNet, 214-841-2818; and the Women’s Museum at Fair Park , 214-915-0874.


Seniors may also want to consider volunteering as a way to stay active and challenge the mind. The Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas maintains a clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities for older adults. For information on RSVP, the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, call 214-823-5700.


In addition to mental liveliness, research indicates that diet and exercise also influence how our brain ages. Eating fruits and vegetables, and drinking water help maintain and protect brain cells. Regular exercise increases blood flow to the brain and improves mood. Establishing healthy eating and exercising habits has the added benefit of decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease.


          Senior Centers often organize nutrition and exercise classes for older adults. The Brady Center , for example, schedules guest speakers on a monthly basis, and exercise sessions on a weekly basis. Programs are for seniors 60 years and older, and occur Monday-Friday from 9:00a.m.-1:30p.m. The Center also serves breakfast and lunch every day. Director Lucy Tamayo says, “Our hot meals are one of our most popular membership features.” For information, call 214-826-8330.


          Exercise and recreation opportunities are available throughout the Dallas area. Contact the City of Dallas Park and Recreation Department, 214-670-6266; or Dallas YMCA locations, Central Branch, 214-826-9922.


          Finally, many health problems unrelated to aging can influence mental sharpness. Depression, for instance, inhibits memory and concentration but can be treated. In a recent Doctors Hospital of Dallas press release, Dr. Richard Bixby says, “"Depression is often under diagnosed, especially in the elderly, and can contribute to memory loss…a person who suffers from depression may have trouble sleeping and may lose or gain weight from altered eating patterns, as well as experience some memory loss due to the situation." Be sure to talk to your doctor and have regular health evaluations to best diagnose any mental health concerns.


Although aging will change some aspects of brain function, older adults can be proactive about their mental health. Keeping a positive attitude may not only make you feel better, but it may also improve longevity. A 2000 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings gives scientific evidence that optimists actually have a tendency to live longer. What better reason is there to think positive?


For information about any aspect of mental health and the aging process, call the Aging Information Office, 214-379-4636. Ask for The Aging Information Directory, which provides a comprehensive listing of Dallas area resources for seniors. The directory may also be requested by writing: Aging Information Office, 400 N. St. Paul,

Ste. 200

, Dallas, TX 75201 ; or visiting: