Keeping the Mind Sharp

Happy National Senior Citizens Day! Though the official holiday was celebrated on Aug. 21, the sentiments behind it are recognized at Concordia year-round – appreciating, valuing and learning from the senior citizens in our lives.

Seniors are the pillars of our society, and while they have plenty of wisdom and experience, they are also constantly learning new things themselves – especially at senior living communities like Concordia. DuWayne Hansen from Concordia at Sumner is a self-taught painter, Dave Schaper at Highpointe at Rebecca is re-learning chess and Liliane Brown and Gail DuBose at Concordia Village of Tampa have started a “Be Young, Be Fun, Be Foolish” dancing class. They shared their experiences, tips and ideas for those looking to pick up a new hobby.

Painting for New Perspective

DuWayne Hansen, originally from Wisconsin, spent his entire career in music education – and while he appreciated the visual arts, he didn’t try his hand at painting until moving to Concordia at Sumner in mid-2021.

“I never thought I would delve into painting, but it’s opened a whole other world for me,” he said. “My wife and I collected art our entire life, but I never realized what a job it is to paint one of them.”

While DuWayne had done a lot of woodworking in his home, his family helped him acquire plenty of art supplies to replace his saws and sandpaper. He started by learning the basics.

“I felt like I probably couldn’t do much of anything, but I decided I needed to learn how to draw in perspective [a technique used to develop dimension and spatial depth] before painting,” he explained. “I found an online school to learn drawing in perspective, and after about 50-75 sketches I felt ready to paint.”

He uses acrylic paint to depict a variety of scenes, but particularly likes to paint structures, like grist mills and stone cottages.

“Now I’m working on paintings of places here at Concordia,” DuWayne said. “The time just flies by.”

He has noticed a change in his own outlook since he began painting.

“You look at things differently after painting for a while – when I go out for a walk on a sunny afternoon, I notice the shadows now,” he said. “Before I would’ve paid no attention whatsoever, but now I notice what color they are and how they stretch out or don’t stretch, how the angle of the sun affects them, those sorts of details. I’m just a little more aware of my surroundings.”

Related: Concordia Retirement Living Residents Find Joy in Gardening

DuWayne also has advice for others who are looking to jump into a new skill.

“You just have to choose something you’re interested in and start,” he said. “I think everyone should find something productive to do where they can see they’re contributing in some way – even if it’s just for their own amusement. I think that there’s just too many people who don’t find something to occupy their time – something they consider worthwhile. But they’d really benefit if they did.”

If you or a senior loved one are interested in a new skill, he said the most important step is the first one.

“For me, learning to paint was like learning to ride a bicycle. As a kid I could never get my balance right, but one day I went out with some friends who had a long driveway. They stuck me on my bike and pushed me down the hill, and I learned to ride it just like that. That’s what you have to do – just jump on the bike and take off.”

Returning to the Board

For Dave Schaper, moving to Highpointe at Rebecca last June meant revisiting an old skill – playing chess.

“I dabbled a little bit in high school, but I was never in the chess club or anything,” he explained. “It had been about 60 years, but I still remembered how to play.”

He began playing with a fellow Highpointe resident five months ago, and the two have fun trying new strategies and tactics.

Highpointe at Rebecca residents Dave Schaper (left) and Francis Adamson (right) playing chess.

“We don’t use a timer, so we take our time and think out our moves,” Dave said. “Chess takes a lot of planning, strategizing and problem solving. Someone told me once that it exercises both sides of your brain – logic and creativity. I just love it, and the more you play the better you get. We like to watch tournaments on YouTube, and if someone makes a mistake, we write down the piece placements and play the rest of the game out ourselves to see if we can get out of the same situation. That’s how you learn.”

This mental exercise that comes with chess has helped Dave keep his mind sharp.

“It really helps you develop a great level of focus,” he said. “There are many benefits, and it really helps you test your memory.”

Related: The Benefits of Retirement Living at Concordia Podcast

Dave says it’s important to have courage when getting into (or back into) a new skill.

“I think people really need to be less intimidated,” he said. “They might say ‘Oh I don’t know enough,’ but I think everyone forgets that even experts had to start somewhere. Everyone was a beginner at one time.”

Learning New Moves Together

Friends and fellow residents Liliane and Gail met shortly after Liliane moved to Concordia Village of Tampa in December 2021.

“We just get along,” Liliane said. “We do a lot of similar activities, and we love to talk and to laugh.”

The two thought of hosting a dancing class on campus, and looked to Gail’s former experience for inspiration.

“I’m not a dancer, but I do a lot of music,” Gail said. “I help in Concordia Village of Tampa’s Medical Center, and I developed a dancing program for the residents there so they could dance in their chairs. I would play music from different eras and come up with moves for them to do. We thought a modified program would work well in retirement living.”

They began holding their “Be Young, Be Fun, Be Foolish” dancing class at the beginning of 2022 every Thursday for about an hour, and now have five to six participants on any given week.

The “Be Young, Be Fun, Be Foolish” dancing class with Gail DuBose (front, left in a white shirt) and Liliane Brown (front, right in a purple shirt).

“One video that we follow along with is an aerobic kind of dancing, but it’s dancing through the ages,” Gail said. “There are songs from the 20s through the 70s – and it’s actually doing little moves that remind you of the days when you did the twist, the mashed potato, the pony, you name it. You can do all of that but from a chair, so it’s regular exercise but much more fun.”

As the group dances together, they can feel the benefits of learning a new skill with others.

“Laughing is just so important – and we do laugh,” Liliane said. “The class prevents isolation, and it’s good for your muscles, your flexibility and your heart. After each class we always say, ‘Oh, that was great, I loved it.’”

They also see how dancing, or any new activity, can help seniors every day.

“My feeling is that if people don’t have an ability to find a purpose and have fun, life can become very hard,” Gail said. “We’re all in the same boat to some degree – a lot of us are alone, either not having a spouse or having had a spouse pass away. And sometimes we forget how to do anything but go to dinner or play cards – but we need more interaction than that. I’m all for trying different things and staying active, and I think everyone can benefit from that.”

If you would like more information about our senior care locations in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio or Tampa, Florida, visit our Locations Map or call our administrative headquarters at 724-352-1571.

Get Updates From Concordia

There is always a LOT happening at Concordia! Would you like to stay up-to-date with our news and events? Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.