So you’re 80? No problem. Challenge your brain.

Dr. Madeleine Hackney, addressing a Punta Gorda Symphony Medical Grand Rounds luncheon at Kingsway Country Club in Lake Suzy.

Think creatively. Dance the Tango. Act in a play. Take up creative writing. Write poetry. Sculpt. Start painting. Enhance your quality of life. “Become what you are doing.”

That’s just some of the extensive advice for older adults shared by Dr. Madeleine Hackney with her audience recently at a Punta Gorda Symphony Medical Grand Rounds luncheon at the Kingsway Country Club in Lake Suzy.

Dr. Hackney is a research health scientist at the Atlanta VA Center for Visual and Neurocognitive Rehabilitation and Associate Professor of Medicine at the Emory School of Medicine.

Neural plasticity

There is no need for older adults to start to feel like they’re losing control of their lives, she said. One way to prevent those thoughts, and depression as well, is creativity and divergent thinking, “challenging your brain with new activities and experience, continuing your imagination, maintaining creativity throughout your entire life.”

Challenging your brain, she said, results in “neural plasticity,” creating “better communication between neurons, making the brain healthier, a lot stronger.”

“Know who you are,” she advised. “Maintain your independence throughout your lifetime. Your feeling of mastery may lead to empowerment and positive health outcomes.”

To accentuate her advice, Dr. Hackney shared a long list of people who gained fame later in their lives — Matisse, Picasso, Stravinsky, Georgia O’Keefe, Martha Graham, Einstein, and Freud.

In planning creative strategies for later in life, older adults, she said, have the advantage of personal recollection and knowledge to draw on, “a lifetime accumulation of experience.”

Creative therapies

Dr. Hackney’s list of creative therapies for older adults included:

Art therapy. A good possibility for change, “It helps make meaning of their lives and a sense of mastery and control. It creates something that is meaningful for them and more meaningful down the road for family members.”

Music therapy. It “facilitates physical cognitive change, lowers depression, decreases loneliness and anxiety, and enhances personal relationships.”

Drama therapy. “Tell stories, solve problems, be a thespian, part of a troupe, define oneself, effect the ability to communicate.” You’re never too old, she indicated, to start an acting career.

Creative writing. “Emotions and dreams can be fostered in text, help you find meaning (in your life) in a different way.”

Social dance therapy. “Improve dynamic balance, heart health and quality of life.” Her particular choice, she said, is the Argentine Tango. “You partner in dance. There are steps in all directions. It increases mobility, encourages embellishment, creativity and innovation.”

Stay young

Dr. Hackney’s final thought for improving the lives of older adults: “Stay young by taking inspiration from the young in spirit to remain creatively active all your life.”


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