A New Way of Thinking about Mental Fitness
Belmont Village Develops Research-Powered Program for Residents
By Amy W. Self
Mental agility among older adults is not just a matter of luck. For years, it was thought that the brain did not change in adulthood, but recent research has shown that brain plasticity actually occurs whenever something new is learned and memorized—indicating new cell production and increased cell connections. This breakthrough discovery means that it is possible, with proper mental fitness, to maintain, and in some cases, even attain cognitive function in aging.
The key is to actually learn something new. “To be effective, a mental workout has to meet specific criteria and have an educational component,” said Beverly Sanborn, vice president of program development at Belmont Village Senior Living. “It’s not enough just to do run-of-the-mill trivia or crossword puzzles, especially if you’ve been doing them for years.”
To meet this challenge, Belmont Village has developed an enrichment program that combines the findings of multiple studies to focus on critical domains affecting cognition. The result is a holistic approach for mind-body-awareness (MBA) that incorporates specific mental and physical workouts, creative and spiritual activities, and brain-friendly foods. And, the program is specifically designed to stimulate brain changes, primarily in the hippocampus, where new memories are formed.
“We’ve taken a therapeutic rather than a leisure approach to the activities,” said Sanborn. “They’re still fun and interesting, but the goal is to help maintain function. We’ve seen very positive results, including some residents actually showing slightly higher levels of function upon evaluation.”
A fundamental piece of the program, according to Sanborn, is monitoring resident progress through a series of assessments using standard rating scales. Upon entering the program, known as the MBA Club, residents are given a baseline assessment. Their “personal trainer” then works with them to establish personal goals, and progress is tracked through subsequent assessments.
Success lies in consistency and fresh and interesting activities. “What sets our MBA Club apart from the pre-packaged programs is that we regularly evaluate to maintain program integrity,” said Sanborn. The company uses a combination of resident feedback, participation levels, and assessment results to help shape the activities and achieve the “just right challenge” for each participant.
“The program builds confidence and self-worth. Residents feel that they make a contribution to their families by being more independent,” said Sanborn. “The most compelling feedback I’ve received came from a resident who said that the program made the group ‘feel alive again.’ You can’t ask for a better result than that.”
The MBA Club is currently available for residents of Belmont Village in Burbank and the other greater Los Angeles communities of Encino, Hollywood, Westwood, and Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, visit www.belmontvillage.com.