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Mental fitness for life (September 2001 - May 2002) - Summary report submitted by Sandra Cusack, Ph.D. & Wendy Thompson, the Mental Fitness Activity Committee, Century House, New Westminster, B.C.

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Most people today have grown up and are growing old with a general view of old age as a period of inevitable decline, and of old people as useless and burdens on society. Such negative attitudes and assumptions continue to haunt them, even when people know better. If you ask people what they fear most about aging, the response usually is "losing it". What is "it" that people fear losing? "It" is mental fitness. The Mental Fitness program at Century House provides compelling evidence that the mind is indeed the new frontier of aging research, and the possibilities for continuous growth and development are unlimited. What does the research say about the impact of learning on health? What is mental fitness? How do we exercise it? What are the benefits and achievements? What is the value of learning? The program consists of a series of eight intensive workshops where participants learn how old attitudes and beliefs about declining mental abilities restrict their options for a vital, healthy old age. How to change negative to positive beliefs that reflect potential for growth, how to speak the language of possibility, how to think critically and creatively, how to appreciate diversity and different perspectives, how to take risks, and how to listen to each other with renewed respect are all aspects of the program. The challenge to participants is to become mentally fit for life. A theme throughout is -- out with the old and in with new: (1) Out with the old research and knowledge, and in with the new; (2) Out with the old beliefs, and in with the new; and (3) Out with the old person, and in with the new. This report will describe the program and its benefits. For the first time, a valid and reliable screening scale for depression was used with important results that have implications for future mental fitness research and program development (Special thanks to Dr. Norm O'Rourke for providing the CES-D and to Mary Rogers, a graduate student in the Gerontology Program, for assistance with the statistics.)
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