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Charlestown Residents, Turned Teachers, Share Their Knowledge in ELLIC Classes

September 23, 2015

CATONSVILLE, MD (September 23, 2015) -- For 26 years Vernon Williams taught part-time as an adjunct instructor at Loyola University in Maryland. Now the retired Westinghouse optical engineer is at the head of the class again at Charlestown retirement community.

Vernon is one of dozens of Charlestown residents who volunteer teaching classes as part of the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown (ELLIC).

Now in its eighth year, ELLIC is flourishing at Charlestown offering residents the opportunity to participate in nearly 80 different classes and special programs. For an annual membership fee of $25, residents can enroll in as many classes and special programs as they wish in a wide range of subjects including history, art, literature, music, computers, science, and travel. All classes are taught by residents who are retired teachers, world travelers, or just have a special hobby or interest. Special programs taught by paid college instructors are also part of the curriculum.

"I love teaching, so when I came to Charlestown in 2013 and I saw an announcement for the classes I thought it was something I would like to be involved with," says Vernon.

This summer Vernon taught three ELLIC classes: Will Computers Ever Be Able to Think Like Humans? How Does Darwinian Evolution Work? And Will Machines Ever Develop a Consciousness? This fall he plans to teach four more classes on topics like driverless cars and The God Particle.

The school year starts in October and runs through June. A course catalog is distributed in September and classes are on a first come, first serve basis. Most classes run from 8 to 12 sessions, however more in-depth subjects can last as long as 24 sessions.

"The classes fill up fast," says Mary "Gif" Intlekofer, moderator for ELLIC. "This past year we had 429 residents enrolled in the program."

Charlestown residents Betty Brown Young and her husband Glenn teach a class called: Observations From Our Trip Around the World which introduces students to the culture and customs of people in China, Japan, Hong Kong, Austria and Greece.

"I enjoy teaching it's a lot of fun," says Betty. "The residents of Charlestown come from all walks of life. They have led fascinating lives. I think it's wonderful that so many people want to share their knowledge with others. It helps you get to know people when they share their life experiences."

According to a study published in Neurology, the official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the continued pursuit of knowledge into your golden years can add more than just enjoyment to your life, it may also decrease your chances of getting dementia.

The study involved nearly 300 people over the age of 55 who underwent testing every six years to measure their memory and thinking abilities. The results: Those who were the most active later in life showed a 32% slower rate of cognitive decline, compared to those who maintained an average level of mental activity. And those who were the least active had a 48% faster fall into dementia.

"Anything having to do with reading and writing counts in spades," said the study's lead author Robert S. Wilson, PhD senior neuropsychologist at the Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center at Rush University in Chicago in a article. Sending emails or reading news online, he suspects, would have similar effects. "There's no reason to think they wouldn't be as mentally stimulating."

"The more, the better," Wilson says. "But it's not like physical exercise, [where it's] 'no pain, no gain.' The metaphor should be 'a hobby.' In order to change structure and function, the activity needs to be sustained and to be sustained, it needs to be enjoyable. Hobbies like quilting or photography, acting and theatre, book clubs: those sorts of things. There's no product that needs to be bought and one size won't fit all." What is important, he says, is that the activity is intellectually stimulating, and interesting enough to keep you occupied for more than one or two sessions."