Seniors challenge their grey matter

Adopt ‘use it or lose it’ mantra when it comes to exercising ‘your brain’

Ruth Vuchnich is 93 years old.
The Ohio-born senior still drives a car — “I don’t drive after dark,” she admits — and takes French lessons.

Vuchnich has been known to play five-pin bowling and she volunteers at least once a week at the YWCA boutique, an organization she’s supported for more than 60 years.


An active lifestyle helps her stay young, Vuchnich said.
“Your brain, like anything else, can become atrophied if you don’t use it,” Vuchnich said with a smile yesterday at Keeping It Sharp, an event for seniors at the Briton House Retirement Residence on Mount Pleasant Rd.

“Use it or lose it.”

The event, hosted by Home Instead Senior Care, put Nintendo’s Wii gaming system in the hands of Briton House residents to play bowling games and answer Jeopardy questions to show seniors it’s important to exercise their brains.

A U.S. study found adults over age 65 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia if they play board games or musical instruments, read or do crossword puzzles.
The Alzheimer Society encourages Canadians to challenge their brain by shaking up their routine, learning a new hobby, reading a book and playing memory games, chess or crossword puzzles.


Holding the Wii game wand, Vuchnich swung her arm back, then forward, mimicking the bowling action, cheering at the sound of toppling pins.

“I felt a little loss of control than when you try on a regular ball,” said Vuchnich, a first-time gamer. “It’s fun.”

Trying new hobbies is nothing new to Vuchnich. Her late husband of 52 years, Mickey, a former football player, took up golf at middle age and Vuchnich learned to play the game with him.
“Being married to him didn’t make me an athlete,” she said. “He always wanted me to play with him and I did.”

Bruce Mahony, managing director of Home Instead, which provides companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping and other services to seniors, said he has seen the lives of his clients improve dramatically when they’re able to sharpen their brains.
One man, who suffered a stroke after losing his wife last Christmas, has returned to playing the piano to help him recover from his injuries.

“He’s playing concertos out of his head,” Mahony said. “Like physical fitness, you can lose it, but you can also regain it. It’s about keeping the brain active and keeping yourself stimulated.”