If the best way to delay the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia was to enrich one’s mind with new knowledge, then some of the residents at Splendido would not have to worry about those ailments for quite some time.
The Splendido Intellectual Pursuits Program (SIPP), which is led by co-chairpersons Ruth Brown and Dan MacDonald, has always supported the idea that there is more to life in retirement other than simply sitting in a chair and watching the days go by. It is possible to enrich one’s self and others through the sharing of knowledge and information.
MacDonald has had this philosophy pretty much his entire adult life. During his career in Illinois, he worked for what was then called Community Chest, now more commonly known as United Way. MacDonald worked in the department of fundraising.
“The major effort was bringing together various organizations and people who could change things,” MacDonald said.
Bringing that mentality with him when he and his wife Hanna moved to Tucson, the couple began taking classes offered by the University of Arizona. The courses weren’t for class credits, but were simply offered for people over the age of 55 who wanted to enrich their minds with learning something new. The group offering these courses was named Senior Achievement Through Growth and Education (SAGE).
Then, in the year 2000, funding from the University started falling and SAGE was asked to seek funding elsewhere.
With MacDonald’s knowledge and perseverance to seek funding, he learned of a San Francisco foundation, named after the benefactor Bernard Osher, which favored the concepts in senior education and was offering grants. Because of MacDonald’s efforts, the group was able to secure a grant.
Once they received the grant, SAGE changed its name to The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Arizona.
As OLLI grew over the next few years with newer members and more classes offered to the seniors of Tucson and Green Valley, Splendido, a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) had begun being constructed. Some of the members of OLLI were signed up to be residents once the facility opened.
After moving and establishing the program within Splendido, MacDonald found that SIPP had a slow start and almost was cancelled due to a lack of interest on people’s part to stand up and teach or tell people their stories, as the program was based on a volunteer basis.
MacDonald has always felt that these types of courses and classes are very important for seniors.
“There’s evidence medically, that involvement of seniors using their brains – it could be crossword puzzles, study, debate, or whatever it may be – using the brain helps put off things like Alzheimer and dementia,” he said.
This, in addition to other physical activities and exercise also stimulates and rebuilds the content of the brain.
Classes cost five dollars per session, which are usually four to eight sessions with one session per week. The topics range from “The world was never the same: events that changed history” to “Poetry appreciation” and from “Art of photography” to “Movie magic”.
But SIPP’s most popular class is Smorgasbord. It is eight completely different topics covered during an eight-week session.
Currently, anywhere from 135 to 155 residents participate in SIPP.
“One thing is the curious nature of everybody,” MacDonald said about the residents at Splendido. “They want to keep learning. So there are people that go into classes that are entirely different than what they did before retiring.”