Arlington Seniors Use SuDoKu to Keep Mentally Stimulated


(Tuesday, September 18, 2007 6:43 AM EDT)

Many people try to stay physically fit as they get older, but working out the brain is important, too.

For seniors who want to keep their brains in shape, SuDoKu may be the perfect exercise, and the Madison Senior Center in Arlington's introductory class might be the place to get started.

“The purpose [of SuDoKu] is to get the mind to focus, to keep it from wandering,” instructor Norton Beckerman said in a recent class. “It is intended to increase cognitive capabilities, and it works. It works very well.”

SuDoKu is a puzzle consisting of a three-by-three grid of nine squares, each of which is similarly divided into nine smaller squares, some containing a number. The aim is to fill in numerals from one to nine so that every horizontal and vertical line and every three-by-three square contains only one instance of each number.

Beckerman said he started doing SuDoKu puzzles at his wife's suggestion “to get me out of her hair,” and quickly became addicted. As someone with a neurological condition that affects his voice, Beckerman has long been interested in brain research and has found SuDoKu to be a very beneficial brain exercise.

“It turns out that SuDoKu is not a numbers puzzle - it's a logic puzzle that fits perfectly with the function of the brain, if you approach it with a systematic, logical process,” he said.

It's this process that Beckerman has been teaching at the Madison Senior Center since January. He presents one introductory class and two workout classes per week.

He starts the introductory class going over terminology and a helping students solve a simple puzzle, encouraging them to go about the exercise methodically.

“Put your pencils away, you're not going to guess,” he said. “Trust your brain.”

Over the course of the class, students solve two puzzles and are given the tools to start figuring them out on their own.

Billie Mitchell, a student at one of the recent classes, decided to attend the class as a way to sharpen her mind and to make her “senior moments” a more infrequent occurrence.

“I like numbers, and it's going to make me exercise my brain,” she said. “I'm a very physically active person, so, since I like to exercise my body, I thought I'd like to exercise my brain.”

For Lucille Durkin, who is Beckerman's mother-in-law, SoDuKu is a good way to stay engaged and keep busy.

“I think it helps you organize more in your mind, and I feel like I've accomplished something,” she said. “For older people who can't do physical activities, it's a great time passer.”

Originally, Beckerman wanted to work with the Arlington government on a research project, but because the county didn't have the resources, he decided to offer the SuDoKu class instead, and he has found the experience very rewarding so far.

“It's been better than any research project I could have imagined,” he said. “Hopefully, I'm helping and encouraging people to engage in SuDoKu as a solid form of mental exercise.”

For more information on classes at the Madison Senior Center, call (703) 228-5285.

Norton Beckerman leads a class for seniors in SuDoKu at Madison Senior Center.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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