Tuesday, February 05, 2008


On January 29th I had the opportunity to attend a MELSA sponsored event held at the Ridgedale Hennepin County Library. The guest speaker was Dr. Gene Cohen and he presented a Creativity and Aging workshop and also discussed highlights from several of his books, such as The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Mind and The Brain in Human Aging. Dr. Cohen is a Harvard graduate and the Georgetown University School of Medicine and currently serves as the director of the Center of Aging at the National Institutes of Health (an agency he founded). He also holds the positions of Professor of Health Care Sciences and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at George Washington University.

Prior to the 1960’s images on aging was regarded as negative and scientists offered little research; common views held by the young were that “you can’t trust anyone over 30.” Psychoanalytic and cognitive development theorists (Freud & Piaget) stressed that development was complete by the end of adolescence or early adulthood. Such theorists have focused more on the negative inner forces holding one back then on the positive. However, changes in the late 1970’s began to appear as social responsibilities were redefined along with the transformation of geriatrics in the 1980’s. It was also widely accepted that brain cells do not regenerate and research in early 1998 disproved and changed this myth. Dr. Cohen discussed that people are able to sprout more dendrites and such sprouting of dendrites allows for greater brain activity and quicker firing at the synapses. Reading also contributes to more dendrites, but only reading of challenging material. Sudoku number puzzles were also mentioned as games that allow for mental thought-provoking ability. It was also mentioned that 95% of the people over 65 are not living in nursing homes.

Children’s views on aging are rather disapproving. Most children seem to view the aged as weird or weak and fairy tales help contribute to negative beliefs. Grimm’s and other fairy tales have left the perception that old seems to be directly related to wicked, as with the “wicked old witch” or the Old Woman in the Shoe.

Dr. Cohen said that individuals go through (4) phases later life that compliments early theorists beliefs.

1. Reevaluation / Exploration / Transition (Quest for more than crises)
Midlife Revolution Phase .+40 - +65 age group

2. Experimentation / Innovation (If not, why not or when?)
Liberation Phase .+55 - +75 age group

3. Recapitulation / Resolution / Contribution (Unresolved conflict resolution giving back)
Summing up Phase .Late 60’s - +90

4. Reflection / Celebration / Continuation
Encore Phase .+80 on

Q. How can libraries better assist the aged population?
A. Develop a resource section in the library pertaining to the 50+ that focuses on:

  • Tapping into their latent talents
  • Developing a social portfolio
  • Job or volunteer placement
  • Staying sharp (mental/physical abilities)

Submitted by Terry G.

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