When it comes to developing a regimen for exercising the brain, many senior care providers come up short.

By Susan Saldibar

Few would argue that promoting brain health through proper nutrition, adequate sleep, stress reduction, medication management, and exercise is important for residents of senior living communities.

But when it comes to developing a regimen for exercising the brain, many senior care providers come up short. That’s what Aegis Therapies, a Senior Housing Forum partner, is interested in changing.

“Developing a cognitive work-out program is every bit as important as a physical work-out program,” says Angela Edney, Occupational Therapist and National Clinical Director for Aegis. “Physical exercise takes care of the first part: providing improved circulation and more oxygen to the brain,” she says. “but without a cognitive exercise program you are only going halfway towards helping each individual maintain their full potential at any given point.”

Building a Cognitive Workout Program takes teamwork.

The goal of cognitive exercises is to facilitate the best ability to function through meaningful activity. There must be cooperation between the therapists and community leadership. Aegis suggests the following actions to promote better collaboration between the therapist and the individuals who are in charge of implementing the activity plan for brain health.  

  • Develop a protocol that promotes collaboration between the therapist and the individual(s) who will implement the activity plan for brain health

  • Create a plan that is derived from observation, interview, and collaboration

  • Put together an activity plan that is agreed upon by all parties

  • Include a “Return” demonstration by the Activity collaborator. The therapist will observe the family member, activities director, CNA or nurse conducting the activity to determine if additional training is needed.  

Here is an example of a 10-day protocol for implementing a cognitive activity program:

Day 1:  Share the cognitive concerns with your community therapist. Share the specific issues of the resident, as identified through observation and input from the family.

Day 2:  Review the Activity section of the medical records and have the resident, family, or caregiver complete an Interest Checklist. This will help identify activities and hobbies that the resident might enjoy. Determine the resident’s previous occupation.

Day 3:  Therapist will then complete the process of cognitive and motor testing.

Day 4:  Assist the therapist with an environmental assessment. Implement behavior mapping as needed.

Day 5:  Review and discuss a draft of the Activity Plan with the therapist. Make adjustments as needed.

Day 6:  Determine who will actually implement the Activity Plan (CNA, nurse, Activities Director, Wellness Coordinator, family member, volunteer, etc.)  Participate in training, and provide feedback.

Day 7:  Determine any additional components needed for the Activity Plan and continue to participate in training as indicated.

Day 8 and 9:  Provide a return demonstration. This involves the therapist observing the caregiver and/or resident performing the recommended activities with resident. Through this observation, the therapist can determine if the program needs modification or if the caregiver needs additional training.

Day 10:  Incorporate the final Activity Plan into the resident’s medical record and continue implementation.

Be sure to integrate failure-free programming components into the plan to gain these added benefits:

  • More enjoyable for both residents and staff.

  • May reduce the rate of cognitive decline.

  • Promotes greater participation.

  • There are no wrong answers.

  • Residents are also more likely to stay engaged for longer periods of time because they receive positive feedback, regardless of the level of accuracy of their participation.

  • When residents are engaging in failure-free programming, their cognition and/or language skills are stimulated.

“There is an understandable tendency to put the majority of attention on physical exercise, without creating a proper workout regimen for cognitive stimulation,” says Angela. “However, when paired together and carried out diligently, the combination can yield surprising results,” she adds. “The quality of life for your residents will improve, as well as that of the entire community.”

For more details on building a cognitive work-out program and the 10-day protocol, please contact Aegis Therapies at [email protected] or check out their website by clicking the button below: