By Eric Heinz
World War II veteran Thomas Hurt, 91, couldn’t even coordinate his walker very well before he started playing table tennis for the first time in years.
On Nov. 19, he was volleying with other table tennis players as though he’d played the game competitively for a long time.
“It’s good hand and eye coordination,” Hurt said. “Most of us started playing again after not playing at all for years. It’s something within our reach and gives us something that we can play together.”
People at the Villas said they had never seen Hurt without his walker until he started playing table tennis again.
“You just got to get out and try,” Hurt said. “The first day that I came out after years of inactivity, table tennis was difficult, but now I’m doing better. I’ve done a little bit of tournament playing, but nothing to write home about.”
Table tennis has been studied at length by multiple research facilities as having benefits to stave mental deterioration.
Joel Levinson, the volunteer table tennis coordinator at the Villas, said he’s seen small improvements in the people he plays with even after minutes. Levinson started the table tennis program by volunteering with the San Clemente Villas by the Sea.
“It’s just amazing how they improve so quickly and the fun that they’re having,” Levinson said. “There’s big research being done for Alzheimer’s and dementia as well as some for Parkinson’s disease. My intention is to have fun with some of the older adults and increasing their hand-eye coordination, whatever benefits may come.”
Levinson said more conclusive research has been published regarding keeping senior citizens active in order to combat later-life ailments.
“It’s low impact for an older adult, and it’s not as easy for them to get injured as other activities,” he said. “All it takes is a paddle and some balls. It does take up a little bit of space, but the camaraderie and the fun of it really is one of the best activities.”
Dianna Mendoza, a caregiver at the Villas, has been looking after one resident who has Alzheimer’s disease for about two weeks and said she’s already seen the difference in his movement and coordination.
“He’s starting to get some of his memory back,” Mendoza said. “Slowly but surely, and his hand coordination is getting a lot better.”
To make matters more difficult, the man she takes care of is blind in one eye.
“It’s a great opportunity for (older people) to play with their grandkids, and it’s a great bonding game,” Levinson said. “Even with my dad who is 83, it’s brought us closer together. It runs the gamut for men, women and it doesn’t matter how old you are.”
Although the table tennis program at the Villas is reserved for the residents, Levinson said he gives lessons to whomever.