Live Vibrantly - June 29, 2022
By Theresa Mandela
This spring and summer, older adults in Maryland have had more than the Orioles and tasty Chesapeake Bay blue crabs on their minds. At 49 senior centers across the state, you’ll find people engaged each day in reading aloud, writing by hand and doing simple math for 20-30 minutes.
No, this isn’t homework. It’s the StrongerMemory program in action!
Earlier this year, Goodwin Living launched a partnership with the Maryland Department of Aging (MDoA) to provide the StrongerMemory program to senior centers throughout the state. in April, I joined the Goodwin Living Brain Health Team as the Outreach Coordinator for StrongerMemory. One of the first and most rewarding parts of my new role includes visiting the senior centers in Maryland and supporting their efforts to launch StrongerMemory.
Each day, I wake up excited to meet with organizations across the country interested in helping older adults improve and sustain their cognitive health, and I’m excited to share the stories I’ve discovered so far!
StrongerMemory is a breakthrough program for better brain health. It was founded by Goodwin Living President and CEO Rob Liebreich after he noticed that his mother, Wendy, was struggling with Mild Cognitive Impairment. With just a few simple, daily exercises, Wendy noticed improvements in weeks. Rob became convinced that those same exercises could help others, and thus the StrongerMemory program was born. Since then, researchers at George Mason University have studied the impact of StrongerMemory on brain health. Early research showed that participants in the StrongerMemory program notice improved ability to focus, find misplaced items and remember conversations.
When MDoA launched the StrongerMemory grant, many state counties seized the opportunity to engage the older adults they support in our innovative brain health. To help them along the way, Goodwin Living provides StrongerMemory program materials, virtual training support and monthly check-ins with their teams. Program managers at the senior centers immediately recognized the value of StrongerMemory. “This particular program seems to be a wonderful intervention as people are beginning to experience some of those normal aging symptoms, to help sharpen and to challenge those parts of the brain that they may not be challenging” said Carol Zimmerman, Aging and Dementia Programs Manager for Maintaining Active Citizens Inc.
Sometimes, I’ve had the privilege of hand delivering those helpful program materials. Many organizations are forced to limit social activity due to the pandemic; some for more than a year and a half. It’s truly exciting to talk with senior centers as they thrive again. Hearing their plans and successes with StrongerMemory is almost as rewarding as seeing each of their programs in action.
There was a buzz of excitement as I entered the Garvey Senior Activity Center in St. Mary’s County for their weekly scheduled StrongerMemory session. Each participant received a welcome packet that included the full StrongerMemory workbook to complete exercises on their own schedule at home. Operations Manager Angel Willer is their upbeat and organized facilitator. She happily told me how the Garvey Center set up their participant meetings up to offer support, camaraderie and a safe space to share. And share they did!
It was so encouraging to hear the participants comments:
“The math is fun. I enjoy it the most and like to knock it out first before moving on to reading out loud or writing”.
“I felt energized by the math, and that surprised me. I haven’t felt that energized about anything in quite a while.”
“StrongerMemory is important to me. I’ve even skipped two pickleball sessions so I can come to the meetings. Don’t worry about me missing pickleball. I’ll make it up.”
— Garvey Activity Senior Center StrongerMemory Participants.
Participants also used hand-writing exercises to reminisce and laugh together as they relayed vivid and humorous details of long-forgotten first jobs, their tumultuous childhoods and more. Clearly, these participants are committed to improving and preserving their brain health in energizing, social environments. That’s what StrongerMemory is at its best.
I made my next trip to visit Elkton Center in Cecil County up north. They have nearly 50 participants in the StrongerMemory program and counting!
“We’re in it to win it” said Elkton Center Manager Patty Taylor and Program Specialist Jackie Stansell. The moment I met them and their StrongerMemory groups, I was overcome by the great turnout and positive energy.
Knowing that many of their senior center attendees come for day-long activities, the Elkton team decided to lead daily, group StrongerMemory exercises. They even created a special check-in station with complimentary exercise timers for those who wish to participate.
“It’s becoming a regular part of the senior center experience,” said Cecil County Community Wellness Chief Sheila Murphy. “You come in, dive into your StrongerMemory work first thing, do a little chatting in between, and then you’re ready to face the day.”
When Goodwin Living sought to expand the ways we support older adults, we dreamed we would find passion and engagement like we’ve found in Maryland. Since the launch of our partnership with MDoA, more than 350 new participants have begun engaging brain health exercise, and that number continues to grow as more counties adopt the program. The wonderful StrongerMemory facilitators work diligently at each senior center to promote fundamental tenets for improving brain health, including repetition and socialization. We receive valuable input from around the state every day. Maryland older adults and facilitators are teaching us how to grow and tailor the program for other older adults across the nation.
We are grateful to Maryland Secretary of Aging Rona Kramer and her team for partnering with Goodwin Living to bring StrongerMemory and all its benefits to the older adults of Maryland! As a registered nurse and a baby boomer, I feel truly connected to the work bringing StrongerMemory to new partners as my personal passion project. I’m proud to be a part of such an incredible journey!
One state down, 49 to go!
Theresa Mandela is a 10th generation Marylander, a collector of antique Delmarva maps and the Goodwin Living Outreach Coordinator for StrongerMemory. She is a registered nurse with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from George Mason University and more than 30 years of experience in senior living and health care.
About StrongerMemory: StrongerMemory is a curriculum designed to stimulate the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which governs our ability to retrieve memories. Participants spend just 20 to 30 minutes a day engaged in simple reading, writing and math activities. The StrongerMemory program is currently available in a workbook of exercises and can be downloaded at no cost at StrongerMemory.org. StrongerMemory is available at no cost thanks to financial support from the Goodwin Living Foundation.