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Friday, October 7, 2016

Still in the game: cognitively impaired seniors can benefit greatly from mind exercises

Activities directors, other healthcare professionals and caregivers read this article from
McKnights Long Term Care News
Julie Williamson

As more studies validate the importance of brain fitness programs for keeping seniors' minds sharp, and as more long-term care operators incorporate them into resident activities, it appears there are still some major obstacles to overcome—namely, the lack of solutions aimed at cognitively impaired seniors.

It's a shortcoming that seems both logical and perplexing. On one hand, it's understandable that brain fitness solutions would be geared toward those who are still mentally sharp. The goal is preventing dementia or, at least, delaying its onset. On the other hand, one could reasonably argue that residents already experiencing cognitive decline also could benefit from brain fitness strategies—even if they can't fully reverse the existing damage.

While experts generally agree that every senior, regardless of where he or she falls on the cognitive impairment spectrum, would benefit from brain fitness solutions, a number of obstacles have inhibited the widespread development of tools for those with dementia.

“Trials and testing with cognitively compromised populations is harder in terms of obtaining Institutional Review Board approvals for studies and trials, obtaining informed consent from participants, training the individuals to use the brain fitness, and getting them to comply with the fitness program,” explains Majd Alwan, Ph.D., director of the Center for Aging Services Technologies, which is affiliated with the AAHSA trade group.

The belief that Alzheimer's and dementia are irreversible presents another barrier to the development of mental exercises for the cognitively impaired.

Time, control needed

As Alwan points out, efforts to prove that an intervention is effective in slowing down the progression of dementia (let alone reversing it) require years of follow-up and active control. Beyond that, there are challenges in designing brain fitness technologies for the dementia/Alzheimer's resident that are fun, familiar (such as those that mimic appliances and other recognizable devices), easy to use and engaging.

“It is too early to have more specific evidence-based guidelines on what program to use,” says Alvaro Fernandez, CEO and co-founder of SharpBrains, a provider of senior-focused online brain teasers and interactive games.

In the absence of such data, SharpBrains encourages communities to conduct their own pilot studies to measure pre- and post-cognitive function to determine which practices may be most appropriate in their environments.
Those that do could very well find their efforts well rewarded. In fact, there's strong evidence that through creative program development and a community-wide commitment to brain fitness, virtually every resident can experience improved cognitive function and quality of life.

“Communities usually start offering programs to their high-functioning [residents] first. These individuals tend to have the ability and motivation to complete the often demanding programs and are not intimidated by computers,” Fernandez notes. “This may be a good place to start, but it is essential to offer appropriate cognitive stimulation, technology-based or not, at each stage of cognitive impairment.”

Breaking down barriers

One respected brain fitness expert has witnessed firsthand how residents.....read the whole story

For a great resource for those with dementia, caregivers and healthcare professinals, click here


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