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Seniors are learning sign language at Model Cities Senior Wellness Center in Washington Lauren Drell/MNS

WASHINGTON –  A group of older women gather in the back room of  a senior wellness center every Tuesday morning for a special class.  They’re all more than 60 years of age and looking to keep their minds sharp by learning American Sign Language.

“At our age, we got to keep this head going!” said Margie Clouds, 62.

The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America champions “brain fitness” as an important part of Alzheimer’s prevention.  Taking classes and studying a new language are suggested activities, but American Sign Language provides these students with more than just some mental exercise.  Ruth Hayes, 79, said she and her husband are learning sign language together because their hearing isn’t as good as it used to be.  A visual communication technique, like ASL, will help them communicate as their hearing deteriorates.

The class at Model Cities Senior Wellness Center in Northeast Washington is sponsored by the D.C. Public Library’s Adaptive Services division and is taught by Janice Rosen, who is Hard of Hearing.  In addition to conversational words and phrases, Rosen also has taught her students patriotic songs and speeches including “America the Beautiful” and “We Shall Overcome.”

Though it can be hard to remember the signs, and arthritic fingers may slow the learning process, these seniors said it’s fun to learn something new.  They even get together for study sessions between their weekly classes to work on their signing and to stimulate their minds.