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Institute for Learning in Retirement at Baldwin Wallace University turns 25

Forget the rocking chair. Medical studies suggest that keeping body and mind active after retirement can play a key role in maintaining cognitive function in old age.

As the Institute for Learning in Retirement (ILR) at Baldwin Wallace University celebrates its 25th anniversary, some 2,000 Northeast Ohio senior adults are currently exercising their brains in a challenging, but flexible and non-competitive college environment.

From 25 to 2,000

About two dozen original members planted the roots of the local ILR in 1989 as a part of the Elderhostel program. In 1992, the organization partnered with BW and became the Institute for Learning in Retirement.

Now, in its 25th year, the Berea organization is one of many ILRs associated with colleges and universities across the country. With 2,000 active members, BW's volunteer-run IRL is believed to be one of the largest in the U.S.

BW benefits

"By associating with Baldwin Wallace, we have had the good fortune to have many of BW's retired professors teach classes, along with many other experts in their fields," said John Koliha '73, a volunteer ILR board member and BW graduate.

Each year, approximately 30 non-credit courses in each of three sessions cover topics from history, music and literature to a biology course that takes advantage of the nearby Cleveland Metroparks.

With an annual membership fee of just $15 per person, plus a fee of $10 per course, the opportunity to flex mental muscle is accessible and affordable. A sister ILR-East organization serves Cleveland's east side.

Use it or lose it

A transparent model of a human brainResearch cited by the American Psychological Association says "there's no such thing as over the hill" for the human brain.

"Psychologists researching the normal changes of aging have found that although some aspects of memory and processing change as people get older, simple behavior changes can help people stay sharp for as long as possible."

That includes stimulating and challenging the brain through lifelong learning. For ILR class participants, "part of the attraction is that they experience college-style classes without tests, written assignments or quizzes," Koliha said.

Feedback from one senior ILR student sums it up best. "I think if you stop learning, that's when you get old."

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