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Seniors who help young people can reap benefits

If you think all that giving-is-better-than-receiving sentiment is so last month, think again.

When older people volunteer to help others, especially students, they reap health and psychological benefits.

Gerontologists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, for example, found that seniors delayed or reversed age-related brain changes while improving their cognitive functions when they tutored children. Sociologists also have found the positive emotions that older people experience from mentoring students helps relieve depression and loneliness.

The findings are no surprise to Susanne Bleiberg Seperson. Bleiberg Seperson, a professor of sociology at Dowling College in Oakdale and director of the college's Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice, helps bring seniors and students together. The older and younger folks both leave the experience richer.

"The students end up developing very positive relationships with the seniors, and the seniors feel that they're giving guidance in terms of life lessons, values and career choices," Bleiberg Seperson says. "Each one is contributing to the benefit of the other."

The Center for Intergenerational Policy and Practice is holding a conference featuring a dozen speakers and eight workshops. Some of the sessions are aimed at getting seniors and younger people involved in each other's lives. But there also are workshops that will discuss holistic health and help older people become financially secure by giving tips on estate planning and long-term care. Other sessions will look at age discrimination and how it affects older people.

"It's not just the workplace, it's all the stereotypes," Bleiberg Seperson says. "For example, even when planning health care, the health provider talks to the [adult] child and over the head of the senior, particularly if they're in a wheelchair."

There also will be updates on how problems of housing and transportation affect the older population locally, and how the Island's fragmented government structure sometimes makes it difficult for seniors to get the services they are entitled to.

The conference is  8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Fortunoff Hall Ballroom at Dowling's Rudolph Campus in Oakdale. The $35 fee includes lunch. There's no phone number available, so to register online or for more information, go to (Click here to connect.)

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