Whether you’re a 104-year-old living in one of Christian Health Care Center’s (CHCC) independent-senior affordable apartment complexes, a 75-year-old who calls The Longview Assisted Living Residence home, or an 88-year-old with dementia being treated at Ramapo Ridge Psychiatric Hospital, you can improve your brain power and enhance quality of life through appropriate activities.

“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 – in-person and virtual – on brain power programs presented by The Vista, Christian Health Care Center’s (CHCC) Continuing Care Retirement Community slated to open in spring 2021.

“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 language. Join a choir. Identify individual ingredients in a meal to challenge your taste buds.”

Improving and/or stimulating the brain is a key goal of activity programs throughout CHCC’s senior-life and mental-health services. Activities are therapeutically based to ensure that they are appropriate, meaningful, and beneficial.

“Not everyone maintains high brain power, but activities appropriate for cognitive-functioning level can provide mind-stimulating benefits,” says Linda Bunker, ADC, Heritage Manor Nursing Home/Southgate Activity Director.

Individuals with mild cognitive loss may benefit from activities geared toward maintaining or improving cognitive and functional abilities. The roster includes exercise, reminiscing, singing, and art-based programs.

“We offer programs designed to actively challenge different areas of the brain responsible for specific cognitive skills,” says Nickesha Ivey, Longview Activity Director. “For example, when residents are engaged in an art-appreciation activity, they are using coordination, planning, organizing, and reasoning skills.”

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

Although group activities throughout CHCC are suspended during the pandemic, appropriate and safe individual activities are offered and encouraged, such as crafts, puzzles, and listening to music.

“Residents benefit cognitively from therapeutic activities appropriate for their functioning level,” Ms. Bunker says. “From day-to-day, and even hour-to-hour, we see fluctuations in responses to and participation in activities, so we adapt accordingly. In adhering to our Person- and Family Centered Care philosophy, we continually reassess our activities so that residents’ interests and physical needs are met, and they are mentally stimulated.”

For more information about CHCC’s senior-life and mental-health services, or to arrange for a virtual presentation on improving brain power through the CHCC Speakers Bureau, contact Karen Hockstein at (201) 848-4463 or khockstein@chccnj.org, or visit ChristianHealthCare.org.