For many years, it was thought that the brain did not change in adulthood. Research now shows that our brains can reorganize and form new neural connections to handle thinking when one part of the brain is having trouble because of disease or injury. This cognitive reserve can be built when something new is learned or when we do something that’s a mental stretch. This means that it is possible with proper mental fitness to maintain, and even improve, cognitive function in aging.
Experts say learning is key. “To be effective, a mental workout has to meet specific criteria and include an educational component,” said Beverly Sanborn, Vice President of Programming for Belmont Village Senior Living. “It’s not enough just to do run-of-the-mill trivia or work crossword puzzles if you’ve been doing them for years.”
To meet this challenge, Belmont Village developed an enrichment program that combines the findings of multiple studies to focus on critical domains affecting cognition. The result is a holistic program for mind-body-awareness (MBA) that incorporates specific mental and physical workouts, creative and spiritual activities, and brain-friendly foods.
“We’ve taken a therapeutic, rather than a leisure approach to our activities,” said Sanborn. “They’re still fun and interesting, but the goal is to help maintain function. We’ve seen very positive results, and in a few, spectacular instances, we’ve seen residents actually improve function through participation.”
The program is self-directed, with guideposts and options to help residents make healthy, thoughtful choices. They select designated, brain-healthy foods from our menu and research-based activities and exercises from our daily calendar that are specifically designed to contribute to mental and physical fitness. Residents can set personal goals and monitor progress with the help of staff.
“We see a renewed sense of purpose and confidence in our MBA Club residents as they achieve their goals,” said Sanborn. “I had a resident tell me that the program made the group ‘feel alive again.’ You can’t ask for a better result than that.”