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Seniors live, laugh, love together

Study shows socializing in later life can help delay age-related memory loss

Posted: October 25, 2009 10:19 p.m.
Updated: October 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Pauline Norris discusses current events with her peers at the weekly meeting.

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From pit bulls to poodle skirts, no topic is too hot for the participants of "Live, Laugh, Love," a weekly group that meets at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center.

Led by facilitator Lucy Reynolds-Hockett, the hour-long meetings start with a review of the week's current events, such as the discovery of water on the moon, President Obama's surprise Nobel Peace Prize award and David Letterman's surprising and scandalous on-air admission to sleeping with his employees.

"What?," Pauline Norris said of the latter. "I didn't know about that. I was too busy buying shoes."

The room bursts into laughter and Reynolds-Hockett couldn't be happier.

"My purpose, my intent is for people to have fun, to just enjoy themselves for an hour," she said.

Live, Laugh, Love is free and open to the community, not just to seniors but to caregivers as well. Attendance ranges from a dozen to two dozen at each meeting, with a ratio of approximately 70 percent women to men.

Reynolds-Hockett brings along materials designed to stimulate discussion, which she culls with input from fellow counselors at the senior center.

She asks the group for definitions to words like "bouillabaisse" or which era it was that poodle skirts were popular.

"Do you remember the horsehair slips used to make the poodle skirts puffy?," Joan Breautt said, shaking her head. "I always wore dungarees and men's shirts."

"How old were you then?," someone asked.

"I don't remember," Breautt replied.

"See how quickly she said that?" Reynolds-Hockett quipped.

Like a game of telephone, the subjects morph into something of a free-form association.

"Have you watched ‘Dancing with the Stars?' Those people can really dance their butts off," said Kenneth Norman.

"I like Cesar Millan's show. He does such good work with the dogs, especially that pit bull of his, what's his name ... " said Dolores Vinllist.

"Daddy," someone replied.

"My grandson has two and I was scared of them at first," Vinllist continued, "but they're so sweet, they just lick you and wag their whole body."

While certainly thought-provoking and entertaining, the opportunity to socialize seems to be the main attraction of Live, Laugh, Love.

Jack and Ginger Freed, who have been married for 55 years, are meeting regulars.

"If they had it five times a week, I'd be here five times a week," Jack Freed said.

That's a good thing for keeping mentally healthy.

According to a study in the July issue of the American Journal of Public Health, socializing is an important way to delay age-related memory loss. The study suggested that strong social ties, through friends, family and community groups, can preserve brain health during the aging process and that social isolation may be an important risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health used data gathered from 1998 to 2004 from the Health and Retirement Study, a large, nationally representative population of American adults ages 50 and older. Participants took memory tests at two-year intervals during the study period.

Survey respondents were read a list of 10 common nouns and asked to recall as many words as possible immediately and again after a five-minute delay. Social integration based on marital status, volunteer activities, and contact with parents, children and neighbors was also measured.

Results showed that individuals who in their 50s and 60s engaged in a lot of social activity also had the slowest rate of memory decline. In fact, study subjects who had the highest social integration scores had less than half the rate of memory loss compared to those who were the least socially active.

The socializing at Live, Laugh, Love often leads to friendships outside the room and day trips to local attractions like The Griffith Observatory as a group.

Laughs and good times aside, the meetings also offer support to those suffering through health issues.

"Last year, we had a man come here with prostate cancer. There was a man sitting across from him who had been through it before and they began to cross talk," Reynolds-Hockett recalled. "He told him, ‘I'll help you through it.'"

Live, Laugh, Love meets at The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at 1 p.m every Friday. The center is located at 22900 Market Street in Newhall. For more information, call (661) 259-9444 or visit www.scvsc.org.

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