When Ilena Aslin retired in 1991, she moved to Cape Girardeau, knowing the intellectual atmosphere from Southeast Missouri State University would suit her. She became an active volunteer, delivering Meals on Wheels and working with groups that help grandparents who are rearing grandchildren.
Today, at 85, Aslin feels good about her mental acuity and believes her community service activities are vital in keeping her brain working at its full potential.
"I'm doing good for others while doing good for myself," said the former executive with the Girl Scouts of the USA.
To help others develop plans for keeping their brains agile, AARP Missouri is organizing a workshop March 29 in Doniphan.
A goal of the "Staying Sharp — Aging Wisely" workshop is to explain the different kinds of memory loss: normal age-related forgetfulness, dementia and Alzheimer's disease. R. Diane Hall, AARP Missouri associate state director for community outreach, said it will also cover help that's available.
A 2011 survey of Missouri residents 50 and older found that 95 percent said staying mentally sharp is important, but fewer than half of them felt they have all the resources they need to accomplish that goal.
The free workshop will feature speakers from the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, the Alzheimer's Association, the University of Missouri Extension and the Ripley County Public Health Center.
Attendees will receive booklets on quality of life, memory loss due to aging, depression, chronic health issues and lifelong learning. The workshop and pamphlets are based on a project created by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and NRTA: AARP's Educator Community. It focuses on understanding how the brain works and how people can maximize brain function and brain health, particularly as they age.
Gary Small, M.D., coauthor of a book on preventing Alzheimer's, said genes are responsible for only about a third of how long and how well people live.
"The lifestyle choices we make every day may be the biggest factor in living better longer and preventing Alzheimer's disease."
Rob Hulstra, community outreach coordinator at the Alzheimer's Association — Southwest Missouri Chapter, will lead two sessions and stress the importance of having social connections.