- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) - At 81 years old, George Leisure was looking to try something new.

He had just entered into a new marriage a couple of months ago and his wife encouraged him to try to play the organ. She’d played for years, Leisure said, and figured he’d enjoy it too.

“I couldn’t even whistle a tune,” Leisure said about his musical ability. “But I sat down, gave it a go, and she said ‘I think you need some lessons.’”

After some searching, Leisure found out about a group that caters to retired players at Lambert’s Music Center in Anderson. In his 81 years Leisure had never once picked up an instrument; now, after just six months, he was “addicted.”

“I wake up every morning and I can’t wait to play,” he said.

Leisure isn’t the only person for whom learning to play an instrument is a way to throw sand in the face of the adage: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

Margie Wharrum, 84, and her husband, David, 86, are also taking lessons as a way to work out their minds because David Wharrum can’t do everything he was once able to.

Science shows as people get older it’s just as important to exercise the mind as it is to keep the body in good shape.

A study published in the journal Psychological Science showed it takes more than a daily crossword puzzle or Sudoku to help ensure aging brains stay healthy. The best way, the study found, was to learn an entirely new skill, like Leisure and the Wharrums.

The study took a group of 221 adults ages 60 to 90, having one group do crossword puzzles and listening to classical music. The other tried brand-new skills like photography and quilting.

Those who tried new skills showed a marked improvement in memory.

But it’s not just the mental exercise that calls Margie Wharrum to practice each week. There’s the social aspect of it, too.

“It also gives us something to do,” she said. “It’s a social gathering.”

Judy Coons, 78, is well past the lessons phase, she’s been playing for years. But that doesn’t stop her from going to Lambert’s Music Center each week.

She’s part of a group called Friends Playing for Friends, which meets each Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. to play a song or two in front of the group and also build friendships.

Coons said it’s like one big family.

“It’s just this feeling you get when you leave, you just have an enjoyable day and feel like you will be with friends all day,” she said.

Without the group Coons said she would be “vegetating at home.” Instead, she practices throughout the week, perfecting the piece she plans to play for that week’s meeting.

“It’s good to have something to look forward to,” she said. “It keeps you younger and can keep you from getting depressed.”

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Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin, https://bit.ly/292neyG

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Information from: The Herald Bulletin, https://www.theheraldbulletin.com

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