Many seniors fear cognitive decline more than any other disease associated with aging. The good news is that engaging in activities that support brain health and brain function can reduce seniors’ risk for cognitive decline and dementia. In fact, training your brain is kind of like training your body with regular exercise, and it can really complement your fitness programs with proper planning. Not sure where to start? Here are five steps to create a focus on brain training in your senior living community.
- Do your homework – Learn as much as you can about cognitive health, dementia, and brain training. The Alzheimers Association website is a great resource, and a quick search on the AARP website yields lots of great information on brain health for seniors. There are also many wonderful books on these topics, such as Spark! by John Ratey. This book really does a good job of connecting the dots between exercise, physical health, and cognitive health.
- Involve the residents – Share the things that you’re learning with residents as you learn them. This can be as simple as teaching a quick fact about the brain at the beginning of exercise classes. Use this opportunity to let the residents know that you’re starting to look into bolstering your cognitive health programming in your community. Ask for their input early to help with your program design. Ask what they already do to train their brains, what kinds of mentally engaging things they enjoy doing, and what topics they would like to learn more about or take a class on.
- Evaluate your programs and make a plan – Take a look at the current activities that you offer in your community. Do you have many mentally challenging, educational, and social opportunities on your calendar? Are there ways you can enhance your current offerings to make them more engaging? Do you have opportunities for individual brain training (i.e. using the Dakim) as well as brain training in a group setting (i.e. brain fitness class)? Determine activities you can enhance or add to your calendar, and make a plan for these changes utilizing resident input from Step two. Also, brainstorm ways that you can include brain training in your group exercise classes. For example, during cardiovascular exercise, you could assign numbers to five different exercises, and cue the exercises using their assigned numbers instead of the exercise names. Then mix it up!
- Provide education – Hold lectures to educate residents on how the brain works and what they can do to strengthen their brains and reduce their risk for cognitive decline. Be sure to point out all the ways they can participate in brain training activities at your community and let them know what new activities and enhancements are coming their way. You might also want to hold a lecture on memory strategies (or just teach one strategy at a time at the end of your exercise classes). Don’t forget to promote your fitness programs as one of the easiest ways to get started with brain training!
- Launch your program – Launch your program soon after you hold the educational lectures – consider using a brain health fair or other fun activity to get started. Begin holding your newly planned activities and enhancements on a regular basis and make sure they stand out on your calendar. Then, use a fun challenge that includes incentives for participating in mentally engaging activities and exercise to tie it all together. Once the challenge ends, celebrate residents’ success and communicate with the residents that the new opportunities for brain training will continue even though the challenge has ended.
Editor's note: Rachel did a fantastic job launching a "Mental Muscle" initiative for the residents in her community. Download the impact report from the program to get a snapshot of how well the residents received the offering and how wellness program participation was affected.
Get in touch with us to find out more about how NIFS can support brain training and other programming for your residents.