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Staying Sharp With Memory Fitness

Jeff Watson, Ph.D., Certified Health Education Specialist
January 6, 2017
Three seniors sit at a table with coffee laughing and talking

Have you ever misplaced your car keys? Or drawn a blank on someone's name? Or get to the store but couldn't remember what you went there for? You're not alone; we've all been there!

Thankfully, Dr. Gary Small and his wife Gigi Vorgan have been researching patterns of memory and forgetfulness for years. Their encouraging work at the UCLA Longevity Center has been published in best-selling books such as The Memory Bible, The Memory Prescription, The Alzheimer's Prevention Program, and their newest: Two Weeks to a Younger Brain.

As part of his work, Dr. Gary Small has created four simple phrases that sum up strategies for a healthy memory:

  1. "Take it in!" (eat wisely)
  2. "Pump it up!" (exercise daily)
  3. "Use it big!" (keep on learning)
  4. "Learn to breathe!" (reduce stress)

Discover Erickson Senior Living's Memory Support program

Because we all want to stay mentally sharp, Erickson Senior Living has developed a three-fold Memory Support program on every campus. "We are just as committed to cognitive health as we are to physical health," says Margaret Kimbell, D.H.A., vice president of community living, who designed the Memory Support strategy for our residents. 

The memory support program has been tailored to meet the needs of residents with varying degrees of memory health concerns.

Memory Fitness

The first stage of the memory support program highlights Dr. Small's six-week class, helping people stay sharp with fun and useful forms of brain health. Memory Fitness is great for seniors who want to be proactive in mitigating or delaying memory issues.

Memory Health

The second stage of the memory support program assists individuals who may have emerging concerns about memory and connects them to relevant resources. Memory Health is designed to help those residents noticing the first signs of forgetfulness, confusion, or other memory-related issues.

Memory Care

The third and final stage of the memory support program brings solutions to anyone in the middle or later stages of dementia. Erickson Senior Living offers dedicated supervision and care for residents who are in need of around-the-clock attention. Residents in the Memory Care program can enjoy private suits and engaging activities and programs tailored to their needs and interests.

Each of the three elements of Memory Support has the same goal: keeping seniors as independent as possible. Every Erickson Senior Living resident—whether living in an apartment home or a continuing care neighborhood—can participate in Memory Support. 

"Our program can help anyone," Kimbell says, "from those who want to prevent memory problems to those who need additional support because of specific illnesses."

The positive impact of Memory Fitness

In 2006, Erickson Senior Living partnered with Small to test out his Memory Fitness curriculum with older adults. Would it work with retirees? Would it help Americans in their 60s, 70s, and beyond? Could significant, positive changes be measured after only a six-week class? According to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (2011), residents at Oak Crest in Parkville, Md., and Riderwood in Silver Spring, Md., answered with a resounding "yes!"

Residents have reported improved recognition of word pairs, retention of verbal information from lists, and better perceptions of memory.

Getting started with Memory Fitness at Erickson Senior Living communities

Ten years later, Erickson Senior Living communities have over 2,000 Memory Fitness graduates. On every campus, the Memory Fitness course is offered at least twice a year for community members and at least once a year for employees. 

Memory Fitness highlights principles for keeping the mind sharp. These principles are supported within Erickson Senior Living-managed communities through several strategies:

  • The Signature Dining program offers brain-healthy food where residents can select nutritious meals from any of the restaurants on campus.
  • At the on-site fitness and aquatics centers, community members can find exciting ways to remain active (physical activity brings vital oxygen to the brain).
  • Erickson Senior Living also offers numerous educational courses and lectures. Active learning promotes neuroplasticity—the idea that our brains can continue to adapt and grow at any age.
  • And because socialization helps keep our brains active and strong, there is a kaleidoscope of resident-run groups where people form new friendships and seek out comfortable ways to connect. 

Throughout Erickson Senior Living communities, residents can find interesting and brain-stimulating activities. For example, if two new residents were strolling through the hallways at Charlestown in Catonsville, Md., they might spot a "Mind Over Matter" cart in the clubhouse lobby—filled with reading material and memory games. If they were visiting Ann's Choice in Warminster, Pa., they would encounter a weekly "Brain Trivia" challenge on the community's in-house TV station. If they were thumbing through the fitness calendar at Brooksby in Peabody, Mass., they could find a course in guided meditation. 

"Through the Memory Fitness program, we keep residents informed about memory-preserving strategies that have solid scientific evidence behind them," Kimbell says. "We don't want to waste our time on things that haven't been scientifically proven to help a person's memory." 

Connect with us today to find out more about Memory Fitness or any other element of Memory Support at an Erickson Senior Living-managed community. If you're already a resident, see a staff member in Resident Life to learn how to enroll in the program today!

As Jon Ruskin said: "When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece."