Curiosity may be bad for the cat, but not for the brain

Huntington resident David Beaty works on his computer at the Huntington City-Township Library. The library is launching a program geared toward helping seniors increase their brain power through a variety of activities and creative experiences.
Huntington resident David Beaty works on his computer at the Huntington City-Township Library. The library is launching a program geared toward helping seniors increase their brain power through a variety of activities and creative experiences. Photo by Andre B. Laird.

Originally published June 15.

It was once believed that as a person gets older, he or she loses brain power and is unable to retain as much information as before.

Kathy Holst, director of the Huntington City-Township Library, says recent research has shown that to be false.

"A lot of earlier research was usually done on diseased brains," Holst states. "However, with the advancement of technology, we are now able to study healthy, functioning brains, which has resulted in a lot of new findings."

Findings, Holst says, particularly about the way older peoples' brains work.

"We once thought that only younger individuals were able to retain and create new synapses and that simply decreased as you got older," Holst says. "New research has shown that we can in fact create and retain new synapses at any age."

A synapse is a region where nerve impulses are transmitted and received and is pivotal in creating a "bridge" that transports neurotransmitters that respond to impulses.

"It's always best if you have a large number of synapses available, but there are several ways to strengthen those bridges," Holst states.

She adds that the library has been very focused for the past seven years with youth development of its "Every Child Ready To Read" program.

"We feel that there is something we can offer to Seniors as well," Holst says. "One of the best ways to strengthen those bridges is through repetitive use. That where libraries have the opportunity to shine."

Holst says the library has a wealth of information on a wide variety of topics that would assist the providing stimulation for the brain.

"What research has also found is that in order to create new synapses, we have to engage in entirely new experiences," she adds. "This helps is building new bridges and repetitive use strengthens the bridges."
Holtz states that simply brushing up on an old or already learned experience, such as a language learned in high school or picking up an instrument that used to be played, does not create a new synapse.

"Because you already know how to do that, it's not considered new," she says. "However, that in itself is good, because you are strengthening that bridge."
Holtz adds that television watching does not count, either.

"The goal is to be actively involved in the learning process," she says. "When we watch TV, we are not actively involved."

Along with health, diet and regular exercise, Holst adds that brain exercise is essential.

"The more actively involved you are, the stronger you build and retain brain power," states Holst. "We plan to facilitate that opportunity for Seniors."

She adds that the library plans to present some unusual and unconventional programs for Seniors.

"It doesn't matter what the new experience is, as long as it is completely new," Holst states. "It could be something a senior has always wanted to learn about and never got around to doing so or something that is completely ‘off the grid' in regards to what he or she would be interested in."

Upcoming programs include an eBay class, author visits, tie-ins with PBS programming and how to make a satchel from a discarded book. Dates and times will be announced later.

"We are moving away from trying to offer only programs that are popular to programs that are unconventional yet interesting," states Holst.

One interesting program that will be offered soon is a Lego building class, Holst adds.

"Luke Juillerat will be leading that class and showing Seniors how to make different things from the blocks," she states. "It's interesting because not many seniors had Legos growing up."

Holst adds that although the library plans to offer programs, Seniors can also be assisted on an individual basis by simply visiting the library and asking for help at the reference desk.

"Someone will always be available to point them in a direction to learn something new," she states.

Holst says simply visiting the library, participating in programs and interacting with others helps in brain stimulation.

"We have over 300 adults currently taking part in our Summer Reading Club," she states. "We always encourage people to read something new, whether it's a new author or book on a topic they find interesting."

With this year's reading program theme, "Be Creative At Your Library," Holtz adds that the library plans to offer programs that focus on various mediums, including art and music.

Interesting ideas can also be found on the library's Web site

"There are programs that offer the opportunity to take an imaginary journey to other countries and explore other cultures," says Holst. "Our main goal is to simply point Seniors in a direction that will help to retain and maintain brain power."

For more information on upcoming programs call the library at 356-0824 or visit 200 W. Market St.