Activities boost brain power at any age

Whether you’re a 97-year-old living in one of Christian Health Care Center’s (CHCC) independent-senior affordable-apartment complexes, a 74-year-old who calls The Longview Assisted Living Residence home, or an 84-year-old with dementia being treated at Ramapo Ridge Psychiatric Hospital, activities can stimulate the brain and enhance quality of life. Activity programs throughout CHCC’s senior-life and mental-health residences and services are therapeutically based to ensure that they are appropriate, meaningful, and beneficial.

“Brain fitness, as much as physical fitness, socialization, and good nutrition, is at the very core of a healthy and independent life,” says Eileen Joseph, LCSW, CPT, PAC, a frequent speaker on brain power for programs presented by The Vista, CHCC’s Continuing Care Retirement Community being built on its Hawthorne/Wyckoff campus.

“Think of the brain as a muscle. In order to grow, strengthen, and improve, the brain needs to be stimulated through novel actions. The key is to add new and different activities to provide a flow of freshness, variety, and challenge that combine physical and mental exercise, while not discounting components like stress management and balanced nutrition,” Ms. Joseph says. “Get out of your normal routine, whether mental or physical, and do something that takes you out of your comfort zone. Learn a new sport or foreign language. Join a choir. Challenge your taste buds by trying to identify individual ingredients in a meal.”

Not everyone, however, maintains high brain power, but activities appropriate for cognitive-function level can provide mind-stimulating benefits. Throughout CHCC residences and programs, individuals are evaluated to determine cognitive and physical capability, interests, and needs so that activities can meet, and even exceed, expectations.

“In practically every senior who joins our program, we see an improvement in cognitive and physical status,” says MJ Paulison, Assistant Administrator/Activities Director at Christian Health Care Adult Day Services of Wyckoff. “Our activities are adaptable to our clients’ abilities, and behavioral and mental changes. From day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour, we see fluctuations in responses to and participation in activities. We adapt accordingly.”

Individuals with mild cognitive loss may benefit from activities geared toward maintaining or improving cognitive and functional abilities. Exercise, reminiscing, singing, and arts-based programs can help them feel uplifted.

“Our Art Therapy program stimulates different parts of the brain,” says Rachel Yahes, ATR-BC, LCAT, Activity Director for The Longview Assisted Living Residence and the Courtyard, Longview’s home for individuals in early to mid-stages of dementia. “Seniors are often surprised and delighted to uncover artistic talents at this stage of their life. They benefit from a sense of accomplishment.”

Individuals with intermediate cognitive functioning may find crafts and baking rewarding with assistance from Activities staff members. They may have the ability to create a collage, for instance, but need help with each step. Individuals with limited cognitive function, such as residents of CHCC’s Southgate behavior-management unit, respond favorably to activities which keep them calm, comfortable, and alert. Listening to music from appropriate eras, reciting familiar prayers with a CHCC chaplain, or looking through photo albums are beneficial.

“Our residents benefit cognitively when they participate in therapeutic activities appropriate for their functioning level,” says Linda Bunker, ADC, Heritage Manor Nursing Home/Southgate Activity Director. “We continually reassesses our activities so that their residents’ interests and physical needs are met, and they are mentally stimulated.”

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