Hebrew SeniorLife has long valued the connection between mind and body, with much of our Institute for Aging Research work focusing on how brain function is linked to fall risk and mobility and investigating how an activity like Tai Chi can benefit older adults. Christina Rice, our director of fitness at NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, Massachusetts, was inspired by programs that combine physical and cognitive exercise together. She recently concluded a successful pilot program that did just that– providing not only a full mind-body workout, but also empowering residents with tools to take their brain health into their own hands.
Research has shown that, in addition to cognitive exercises like those we offer our assisted living residents through partner Vigorous Minds, physical fitness training has a positive impact on cognitive function. Increased memory retention, strengthened executive function, and enhanced attention have all been reported as a result of healthy physical fitness routines.
To help NewBridge residents incorporate a more holistic approach to brain and body health, Rice convened a 5-week class for 12 residents, all of whom shared a similar level of mild memory loss, as well as an interest in improving their overall well-being. Over the five weeks, participants learned that a holistic approach to health—including working out, reducing stress, and challenging oneself with both cognitive and physical fitness exercises—are all ways they can help enhance their own brain health.
While each session focused on a specific aspect of cognitive health: language, word recognition, executive functioning, memory, and attention, the format was always the same. Class began with a social ice breaker during which each participant shared a little about themselves. They would then take turns recalling the details of what others shared, to both get to know each other better and to practice recall skills.
Following this warm up, participants received 3 flash cards, each with a unique word. At the end of the session, each participant would try to recall what each card said. Christina then led a session of physical exercise which varied each week – activities such as chair yoga, chair Zumba, strength training, or balance work. Sessions ended with an educational component explaining that week’s cognitive health theme. Participants left with a homework assignment, such as to complete increasingly complicated Sudoku puzzles. By the end of the pilot, residents were able to do a full-sized puzzle, allowing them to add Sudoku as another tool to support their cognitive health.
Christina is currently working on further developing the curriculum based on resident feedback and hopes to offer an 8-week session to NewBridge residents in the fall. We encourage NewBridge residents to contact Christina to join a waitlist for upcoming sessions.
If you are not a resident at our independent senior living communities, but would like to learn more about our five unique living options in the Greater Boston area, click here.