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Seniors Never Too Old to Give Advice

FSU researchers have found that older adults with moderate to severe symptoms of dementia can assume advice-giving and teaching roles despite their cognitive impairments.
FSU researchers have found that older adults with moderate to severe symptoms of dementia can assume advice-giving and teaching roles despite their cognitive impairments.

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September 6, 2011

Older adults offer much to the work world in terms of experience and skill. And, according to research, they don’t have to let the effects of aging get in the way. A little extra assistance around the home could help a senior continue to live a productive life.

Q. I’m a 76-year-old man who has enjoyed teaching a night class for years. I know I’m starting to suffer from dementia, however, and I’m concerned that this will affect my performance in the classroom. Do you think that will happen and are there ways to keep my mind sharp and continue to teach the subject I love?

Research from the Florida State University (FSU) should encourage you. The study found that while dementia may rob an older person of memory and focus, the ability to offer advice seems to be preserved.

FSU researchers have found that older adults with moderate to severe symptoms of dementia can assume advice-giving and teaching roles despite their cognitive impairments.

In the first of two FSU studies, researchers interviewed 14 people with early to advanced stages of dementia at an adult day care center who were on average 82 years old. The researchers asked about marriage, children and church in a typically social way, such as “Tell me about your children.” In later conversations, they asked the adults for advice on the same topics, such as, “I'm thinking about having children. What kind of advice can you give me on that?”

They found that adults were more coherent, informative and focused on the topic when asked for advice as opposed to when they were simply asked about their children, church or marriage.

The researchers conducted a second study to explore whether adults with dementia had retained the ability to serve in a teaching role. For this study, six adults with dementia and six without dementia, all in their 70s or 80s, were given a booklet of pictures to guide them in teaching someone a simple recipe, such as how to make banana pudding or decorate a gingerbread man. Both the cognitively intact older adults and those with dementia successfully taught students to prepare the recipes.

The researchers, whose finding appeared in the academic journal The Gerontologist, theorized that adults with dementia were successful giving advice and teaching a cooking lesson because they were able to tap into knowledge that was accumulated when they were younger and needed when they were parents or mentors.

Other studies have revealed that socialization as well as keeping the mind active can help seniors with dementia remain active and engaged. That’s good reason to keep teaching for as long as possible. If needed, seek out more companionship for assistance. The local Home Instead Senior Care® office hires CAREGiversSM, some of whom are teachers or former teachers and professionals themselves, to assist seniors in their homes. A CAREGiver could be just what you need to help you prepare for your class.

For more information about the study visit http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-07/fsu-sew071706.php

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