Dynamic Aging Program at OLLI

The Dynamic Aging Program (DAP) at OLLI began its fourth year this past Fall term. 2018 Winter term registration begins on November 14th for course package holders, and November 16th for all others.  The DAP is a one year (3 OLLI terms) program of proactive and systemic coursework, assignments, and discussion on Optimal Aging taken from the latest research on successful aging from multiple scientific perspectives.

This class is not for everyone. Some people choose to live the last 20-30 years of their life in accordance with our society’s ideas on aging and retirement – which includes dis-engagement from our rapidly changing world, simple activities to keep them busy, and association with the same people, ideas, and ways of doing things. While a majority of retired adults live this way, it is actually a prescription for pre-mature cognitive and physical decline. Instead, by learning about ourselves and the world around us, and engaging meaningfully on the edge of our comfort zone, we can proactively create new brain cells and neural pathways, increase our levels of happiness and joy, find new meaning and purpose, make the most out of all our relationships, and possibly achieve what Abraham Maslow called self-actualization, or other traditions refer to as enlightenment.

The classes do not have to be taken sequentially to be effective, and new students are encouraged to register for the Winter term. Graduation from the program requires the completion of all 3 terms. Each term will present different aspects of dynamic aging in the form of building blocks towards achieving a systemic understanding of how older adults can significantly increase the quality of their lives for years to come. The DAP will be taught as follows by term:

Fall, 2017: DAP 1
Winter, 2018: DAP 2
Spring, 2018: DAP 3

The DAP is the only proactive and systemic approach to optimal aging being taught in a classroom setting anywhere in the world. It now has almost 90 OLLI graduates, and we have expanded the program to include an Aging Mastery class on Wednesdays for our graduates which extends the study of optimal aging from its physical, mental, and emotional foundation into the realm of psycho-spiritual growth and development. This advanced class provides the opportunity for DAP graduates to delve even deeper into creating a more satisfying aging process in a very supportive environment.

The DAP will meet each week, for 9 weeks, on the following day and time:

Tuesdays: 10:45am to 1:15pm. Room HC004 (downstairs). Students will be charged for only one class by OLLI.

The class is highly interactive and the time passes quickly.  We will continue our class during  lunchtime until 1:15pm so that the subject matter can be thoroughly taught and  supportively discussed. Make sure you bring your lunch or adequate snacks to these sessions. Attendance at these lunchtime sessions is mandatory, and absolutely necessary to learning how one might live a more meaningful, positive, and joyful retirement in a proactive and systemic manner.

While the class hours are longer than a normal OLLI class, its current 2 1/2 hour format is significantly shorter than the 4 1/4 hour class sessions required during the first three years of the program. The reason for the change is that many possible students have said they are interested in taking the DAP, but couldn’t attend 4 hours of class in any one day due to physical pain or other restrictions. The shorter hours are meant to accommodate all students, regardless of these physical restrictions.

DAP 2 in the Winter term will be spent learning about the LIFE Model – which shows us how we can accelerate and optimize our personal development through a process of meaningful engagement with new people, ideas, and ways of doing things. This personal growth is critical to an older adult finding new meaning and purpose to life after retirement – something that seems to be missing from so many retired person’s lives.

Finding new purpose, helping others by using our unique gifts,  and working towards creating something greater than ourselves can add years of productive, happy, and healthy life that is additive to the already longer lives we are experiencing due to medical science.  In fact, people are living so much longer today than when our parents and grandparents did, older adults are now facing an entirely new stage in life: one that can be spent in a long period of cognitive and physical decline if we do nothing to improve ourselves, or we can make the world a better place to live in for future generations by doing things to help others that also promote greater personal cognitive and physical health, increased happiness, and a sense of meaning in this last third of life.

DAP Student Comments

Here are some of my students’ comments about the DAP:

“I feel like this course has already added to my quality of life as the practices learned are helping me stay more centered and balanced.” (K. M.)

“DAP has provided me additional insight, hope & fortitude. I’d already applied mindfulness & awareness 2 my existence, but DAP strengthened my resolve if you will… Foremost, I savored concepts like Neurogenisis and Neuroplasticity… How I relish the idea of growing NEW brain cells & neural pathways/synapses!!! This prospect alone offers incredulous incentive to seek “more edges and growth opportunities”.” (K. H.)

“I’ve heard for years that once you hit retirement, you either must use it or lose it. Now I’ve found so many new ways to use it. Mindfulness, being in the moment, fully aware has changed my daily outlook. I’ve lessened the baggage and loosened the old reins and am finding much more pleasure in my days.” (C. B.)

“I have always had an interest in what makes people (myself included) tick so this class has been immensely interesting to me. So, to list all the things I have learned would take ages. But the most useful thing I have learned and am practicing is examining my underlying emotions and feelings when situations come up that previously caused me stress or anxiety – and then letting them go. This has greatly enhanced my relationships and my own personal sense of peace.” (G. W.)

“The concept that things are always changing and the need to be on your “Edge” was important. Like many people, I have things in my life that are working, for right now, and don’t want them to change. I realize now that a couple of things that have worked well for me in the past aren’t working as well now and I need to let go and make a few changes. I find myself now more willing to make these changes.” (J. C.)

“The DAP class has been very beneficial to me in several ways. It has helped reinforce the fact that anxiety and worry does no good, and to keep a positive outlook on the future, rather than dreading growing older. I feel challenged to use my remaining years in the most fruitful way possible, to continue learning things that challenge both parts of my brain and at the same time my body.” (G. B.)

“I am actively seeking stimulating people, particularly people who enjoy laughing. I am taking time to reflect on and absorb positive feedback and positive experiences. Before this class, any encouraging response to or about me went mostly unnoticed. But, if someone said something unkind about or toward me, I hung onto that for ages!” (B. B.)

“I have had probably 30 years of “training” in awareness and have never gotten past the intellectualization of the concepts, until this class. Even though I knew that “intention” required more than just saying or thinking the word, I really never got there before. Between the great class atmosphere and knowledge building, somehow I have finally discovered that “intention” is just doing. Perhaps it is because I realize that I am running low on remaining years in this life or ??, but I am finally getting it. Thank you Dudley!” (T. W.)

“Wow, the weeks have flown by and I’ve learned so much. I believe I lived on cruise control for many years, not taking time to enjoy the “small stuff” that was part of my everyday life. I have cleared some of the clutter from my mind, becoming more “mindful” of the present and am slowly learning to approach life, my health and relationships with less worry and anxiety. I also think becoming more mindful increases our compassion for others. Also, I’ve learned to listen more intently to other people. “New brain cells”–never thought that was possible as we aged. Letting emotions rise but then dissipate so that I would not be judgmental has become something that I hope becomes a permanent habit.” (E. R.)

“I have thoroughly enjoyed the Dynamic Aging Program. Initially I had a hard time grasping the usefulness as well as my personal ability to practice the art of acceptance. Many things I don’t want to accept and thought it was negative to do so. Now I have a better understanding of what acceptance means, and by doing so I have saved myself a lot of wasted time and energy wrestling with circumstances I don’t even need to be involved with. This has been extremely helpful, and after fighting it for a long time, I now find it fairly easy to do.” (L. W.)

“The concept of letting go during the change process (versus being dragged along) has preserved an abundance of mental and emotional energies as I’ve encountered new challenges to the status quo of my vigorously defended life. The DAP has reminded me about the benefits of openness and curiosity, and what a joy those revelations can be as I move forward.” (D. D.)

“This class has been everything I expected it to be when I took the intro class back in the spring. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what a difference it makes to the class to have people in it who want to be there and are really putting forth the effort to put new thought and behavior patterns to work. It’s been inspiring to me and I’ve learned a lot from my fellow students.” (J. S.)

“When I began this class, I felt that I had been doing all (or at least most of) the things a healthy, active recently retired woman could/should be doing to age optimally. I learned that there is so much more I can be doing! I quickly discovered the benefits of being more mindful, living in the moment, and identifying stressors in my everyday life and how to reduce them. I find that I am smiling more, being a better listener, and interacting with others more comfortably.” (C. E.)

“What a joy DAP has been for the last 8 weeks. I also have had many years of studying many of the practices Dudley has touched on. I say studying because for a lot of years now I haven’t actually been practicing. This class has been a catalyst and set a fire of desire within me to once again restart and continue my spiritual practice. Thank you Dudley!” (S. M.)

“Once I stretched myself to my utmost, the brain took over doing what was natural to it, what it was created for: to adapt, recycle, shut down (unused neural connections), refocus with the ebb and flow of pruning, while simultaneously creating new synapses. I moved out of my comfort zone and my brain went to work recreating itself.” (U. E.)

DAP Facts, Logistics, and Requirements

The DAP will continue to be offered each term at OLLI for as long as it is successful. Each term will offer one of three distinctly different program modules – with each class during each term consisting of multiple interactive teaching sessions followed by small and large group discussion of the concepts and ideas learned. The DAP’s three terms do not have to be taken in sequence to achieve their benefits, and each term will offer knowledge and practices valuable to the student even if they don’t continue with the entire program. Also, since each term is non-sequential and offers a stand-alone set of teachings, students can miss a term due to travel or illness and be able to make up the missed module when it is offered again in the future.

Ample breaks will be offered throughout the 2 1/2 hour session, and students can bring seat cushions, blankets, pillows or anything else that will make them more comfortable during classroom activities. Sessions will be highly interactive, so the time will pass quickly. Homework assignments will usually be in preparation for the following week’s classroom activities.

I teach this class with my wife, Chris, who is one of the wisest women I know. Chris graduated from UCLA with an MBA and is now an artist, singer, energy healer, and helping teach the DAP by relating to students with examples from her own life and unique perspectives. Chris has also added a large element of humor to the classes as we have been married for 42 years and we have many funny and interesting stories about our own relationship which serve as examples for the teachings.

The DAP is not for passive learners, but for people who want to take charge of their own aging process. True learning requires experiential, reflective, and participative engagement with the subject matter being learned – so we have designed the program in order that students will learn as much from their own and fellow students’ experiences, as they will from the teacher and the scientific knowledge being taught. I have changed my entire style of teaching in order to create an environment where this type of learning can occur and be most effective. Talk to any of the DAP graduates to understand how effective this process has proved to be.

What is Dynamic Aging?

Modern medical science has added – on the average – an additional 10-20 years to a person’s lifespan. If we keep ourselves in relatively good physical and mental condition, then we can turn this new stage of life into the most important and meaningful experience of our lives. Modern science – across multiple disciplines – tells us there are many things we can do to maintain our cognitive processes and improve our levels of happiness; thereby making these final years as satisfying and productive as possible. The purpose of the DAP is to take this scientific knowledge and make it as understandable as possible, and then reduce this knowledge down to multiple insights and easy-to-learn practices the students can employ in their own lives to age more dynamically.

The science behind an optimal aging process changes almost continually. The practice of positive psychology and the concept of “neuroplasticity” show us how we can forge new neural pathways in our brain to offset cognitive decline, become more positive in our outlook, and improve our adaptability to all forms of change. We will explore the use of self-directed neuroplasticity to improve the mind’s ability to self-heal, and sculpt itself into anything you want it to be. New technology allows us to better control stress and the inevitable chronic pain associated with the aging process. In fact, through a process of personal development, you will learn how to change your stress set-point so that you are more frequently activating your own para-sympathetic nervous system (the “relaxation response”) and preventing deadly cortisol build-up in your system. Also, Through age-appropriate exercise and nutrition we can keep our bodies younger and stronger than ever before.

All of these scientific advancements can improve our quality of life, if we make the effort, but it is only by meaningful and mindful interaction with one’s environment that a person can catalyze a growth process leading to the discovery of our own unique life’s purpose, greater wisdom and freedom, improvements in all our relationships, and increasingly higher levels of personal development.

By adopting the practices taught in this program, we will begin to experience an increasingly rapid developmental process that enhances everything we do. We will become more fully and uniquely “alive” – more fully ourselves – even as our aging bodies begin to fail.

The alternative to this more proactive and interactive approach to aging is a more traditional and passive approach to retirement – leading to a faster rate of cognitive and physical decline, gradual loss of personal energy, and a deterioration in our quality of life.

Stability is not an option as we get older.

A proactive and motivated DAP student can expect improvements in some or all of the following areas:

• Quality of life and life satisfaction
• Overall physical and mental health
• Cognitive capabilities
• Happiness levels, optimism, hope
• Ability to control stress and pain
• Relationships
• Self-awareness and personal development
• Flexibility and adaptability to changing life conditions
• Energy levels
• Acceptance of self, others, and situations

The DAP is not for Everyone

As stated before, the DAP is not for everyone. It involves a significant investment of your own time and the time of your instructors. The most effective students – those who will make the most remarkable positive changes to their aging process – will also be those who are the most motivated to learn, and willing to practice what they learn between class sessions. All students must be computer savvy, having their own computer and email account, and know how to find and navigate a website.

Each person reading this introduction to the DAP must ask their self:

“Is it worth it for me to participate in this program?”

The choice is yours to make. Some people believe they are already aging in an optimal manner. Some are less adventurous than others. Others will only participate if it is proven to them that they will be successful. Others would not participate in anything so new unless most of their friends were also doing it. And, some people are simply in denial about the eventual declining quality of life they will certainly experience if they don’t start taking a more proactive approach to their own aging process. These are all choices you must make for yourselves. The DAP is certainly not meant to be for everyone at OLLI, but I believe the numbers and percentage of students who want to take the program will rise in coming years as people begin to see the difference it makes with my students.

Based on our experience with past program enrollment, I know there is a small group of adventurous and self-aware older adults who understand deeply what this program represents – a chance to age optimally: with a higher quality of life, more energy and excitement, a minimum of age-related decline, renewed meaning and purpose, and the chance of discovering their unique potential in life. They understand that passivity and inertia around their own aging process will lead to an increasingly rapid decline. They want to take a more proactive approach to their own aging process, but are not knowledgeable of all they can do to help themselves. And finally, these students understand they cannot do it alone – there is a need to find teachers, and a supportive community of fellow learners, for making these types of changes in their lives.

These are the students I want for this program – people who will participate with me in this emerging new field so that we can together discover the keys to optimal aging and change the aging and retirement paradigm for millions of older adults. This is my vision, and for those people who choose to fully participate in the DAP, I promise you the experience of your life – and a lot of fun in the process. Please contact me personally if you have any questions.

Dudley Tower, Ph.D.
Founder: Dynamic Aging Institute
Instructor: DAP at OLLI at Furman

Stability is not an option