Area seniors are getting a healthy dose of education to improve brain health via Jamestown Community College's senior audit program.
David Tharaeparambil, 80, a retired JCC professor, is currently taking a ceramics course at JCC. Tharaeparambil, Marsha Butler, Bob Reeder and several other students in the class are senior citizens aged above 60, and are thus eligible for the senior audit program. The program allows them to take the course without getting graded, and they only have to pay the fees associated with the particular class.
For Tharaeparambil, taking the courses at JCC is about much more than just improving his skills, he said. There is also a therapeutic value associated with both the ceramics and digital photography classes he is currently taking.
Students of Jamestown Community College’s Ceramics I class are shown with some of the pieces they have been working on. Pictured from left are Marsha Butler, Bob Reeder and Katie Coleman, of all of Chautauqua; Deric Ence, JCC ceramics professor; and David Tharaeparambil, a retired JCC professor who is currently taking the ceramics course. Several of the students in the class are senior citizens over the age of 60, and are thus eligible for the senior audit program. The program allows them to take the course without getting graded, and they only have to pay the fees associated with the particular class.
P-J photos by Dusten Rader
"It's excellent therapy, and craft is a way of living fruitfully," said Tharaeparambil. "One of the things that happens when you get to my age is that if you don't use your brains they fade little by little. Going to community college to improve your technical skills makes you forget your deficiencies, and that you're falling apart - it's better than medicine."
Tharaeparambil's ceramics professor, Deric Ence, who earned his master's at Edinboro University, said that he feels it's not just the seniors who benefit from taking the classes, but also the professor and the other students.
"Having seniors in the class brings more variety, and they have different experiences, " said Ence. "I think the younger students really appreciate the older ones because they see what they have grown up to become, and that they are still continuing to progress and grow as individuals. David has taught me a lot by just being in the class. I remember that he told me that once your mind goes, then your body follows. So, if you keep your mind active and continuing to do what you can to learn and progress - then you're going to have a more healthy life."
Butler agreed, stating that the social aspect of interacting with the professor and students both young and old is what makes taking the classes fun.
Reeder said that for him, it's never too late too learn new things. That's because he believes that, "You're not middle aged until you're 80," said Reeder.
According to Ence, the ceramics class in particular is one that is beneficial to the senior students because it is a skill that many people wish they would have done.
"By giving them this opportunity, they get to do something that they always wanted to do," said Ence. "And, not only that, but you're making something you can use."
The pieces the students create in class are also great gifts, said Tharaeparambil.
"One of the first coffee mugs that I made I gave to one of my tenants - and he was so thrilled," said Tharaeparambil.
Ceramics and digital photography aren't the only classes that Tharaeparambil has taken at JCC. He has also taken intro to painting, and his favorite, he said, was literature of the Bible.
"I was brought up Catholic, but I never read the Bible from cover to cover," said Tharaeparambil. "It was one of the best classes I have taken in all of my life, and if there was one class that stands out in terms of making sure you think, it was that class."
Next semester Tharaeparambil plans on taking Ceramics II, which is an advanced level class. But, he also has dreams of going to Costa Rica, where he hopes he will be able to learn Spanish.
"It's one thing that I've always wanted to do, and never been able to," said Tharaeparambil.
Tharaeparambil, who is originally from Kochi, India, earned his first bachelor's degree from Madras University in India. Then he completed a bachelor's in law from Bombay University in India and earned his master's degree from Western Michigan University at Kalamazoo. He then began a doctorate at Michigan State University East Lansing, which he nearly completed before he began teaching political science at JCC in 1966. After retirement, Tharaeparambil decided he wanted to study gerontology, and completed a graduate program at University of South Carolina. But, his studies aren't done, and he hopes to pass the bar in New York State so that he can practice law, he said.
According to JCC's registrar's office, the way the senior audit program works is that students age 60 and over may register for a course in the senior audit grade mode; beginning the first day of the course on a space available basis. A senior audit form may be obtained, and completed, in the registrar's office.
For more information call 338-1000 or visit www.sunyjcc.edu.
Continuing education into the later stages of life can have lasting positive affects on brain health. Mary Ann Spanos, director of the Office for the Aging, says that research has shown that brain health is dramatically affected by learning new skills.
"When you're learning a new thing, it is the best way to create new connections in the brain and to see changes that are positive," said Spanos. "So, I think it's fantastic that David is continuing his education. You're never too old to learn new things, and it says a lot about a person who goes back to school. It's extremely beneficial for him to maintain his brain health and cognitive function through to the end of his life by constantly challenging himself."
If enrolling in a class is not an option, one way that Spanos recommends area residents can improve their brain health is with www.lumosity.com. The website features brain games and training that challenges users, and claims that subjects who utilize the games showed an improvement of 20 percent in memory and attention.
Stephen McConnell, PhD, of the Alzheimer's Association, stated in "The Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health," that "The new science has shifted the focus to the idea that there is value in a public health strategy of getting people to think about their brain and how they might alter their behavior to keep their brain healthy."
According to ASA-MetLife Foundation's "Attitudes and Awareness of Brain Health" poll, more than 84 percent reported that they took some time nearly every day to engage in activities that may be associated with improved cognitive health: engaging in art or creative projects, reading, keeping physically active, playing games or doing puzzles, working, or spending time with family and friends.