Can ‘old dogs’ learn ‘new tricks’?

When it comes to grandparents, I was sadly deprived.
My maternal grandfather died before I was born. My paternal grandfather died when I was two years old and grandmother when I was eight.
And I lost my last grandparent, my maternal grandmother, at age 17.
Even though I was eight, I never knew Grandma Gingerich very well. She lived in Canada and when she came to New York, she had four sons, three daughters, and many grandchildren to visit.
So her visits to our house were brief.
But Grandma Moser was a treasure. Or as Shirley Booth used to say in the TV show “Hazel,” she was a “doozy.”
DOOZY: something wonderful, a remarkable or excellent thing. That was my Grandma!
She was funny and witty. Always interested in new things. Although she had hard experiences in her life, she was always positive.
And it makes me smile yet when I think about her hearty laugh.
A young widow, she lived on her savings. She was frugal, but had a nice house in town. I always loved the stained glass window in the front entrance.
Towards the end of her life, she began growing blue spruce and mountain ash trees from seed, harvested from her yard. I still can see her eyes light up as she showed us the tiny three-inch trees.
She was 72 when she died. She and her daughter had been grinding and canning horseradish earlier. And just before she made supper, she walked down the street to give a jar of horseradish to a friend.
During the conversation, she collapsed.
I admired my “doozy” of a grandma and wanted to be just like her when I grew old.
She seemed to have such a good life. And everyone respected and loved her.
Because of that attitude, I was shocked later to find out that many people dreaded getting old.
So in answer to the question, “Can old dogs learn new tricks?” My answer is “Yes.” My grandmother did!
And I’m not the only person to think this way. Douglas Powell, a distinguished researcher on cognitive aging, even has written a book on the topic: “The Nine Myths of Aging: Maximizing the Quality of Later Life.”
In his book, Myth 6 is “Old Dogs Can’t Learn New Tricks.” A myth Powell says should be debunked!
“No magic birthday exists after which we can no longer improve our intellectual skills,” he writes.
“Given reasonable health and freedom from cognitive impairment, chances are we can boost our memory, if we choose to do so, until late into the final chapter.”
But you have to work it. He suggests training sessions, self-study, relaxation, meditation, and exercise. Yes, exercise!
Everyone knows that mental exercise improves brain function and protects against cognitive decline. Now researchers say physical exercise does the same thing.
So if anyone says you are too old to . . . don’t listen to them.
And do the same with the other myths of aging, including: Aging is boring. An unsound body equals an unsound mind.
Memory is the first thing to go. Old people are depressed and have every right to be.
Let go of these myths. Choose instead to grow and learn “new tricks” throughout life.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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