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Live Wisely - April 15, 2022

Brain Health Program in Goodwin Living Incorporated Communities

GHBC Resident John Rogosch

This article first appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of VaCCRA News, a publication of the Virginia Continuing Care Residents Association. This is the first of a two-part article. The second part will be published in the summer.

Goodwin Living Incorporated (GHI) is currently expanding its programs to promote and strengthen brain health awareness and care within all areas of its Life Plan Communities—Goodwin House Alexandria, Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, and Goodwin Living at Home. A broader goal is also to build community participation in fostering brain health awareness in the local surrounding communities. The Brain Health initiative is a significant extension of GHI’s ongoing effective memory strengthening programs, and has led to the recent creation of a new Brain Health Department.

Since 2020, the president and CEO of Goodwin Living Incorporated, Rob Liebreich, has stimulated emphasis on building stronger memory and dementia prevention activities. Based on his earlier experience with mild cognitive impairment in his family, and in consultation with skilled professionals, he brought his experience with developing stronger memory modules and integrated them in a series of brain health exercises. The StrongerMemory program at Goodwin House Alexandria and Baileys Crossroads to address mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is now well-established and being utilized by over 100 residents.  The program’s memory curriculum modules—including simple math, reading and handwriting exercises, are now widely available.

Stronger Memory Program

In the StrongerMemory program, participants spend 20 to 30 minutes a day reading out loud, doing simple math problems quickly and writing or journaling by hand. Many individuals also choose to participate in StrongerMemory weekly check-ins where they can connect with other individuals struggling with memory loss and provide encouragement. The weekly check-ins provide a space to come together and talk with others who are experiencing the same challenges and are also motivated to take action to better their brain health. This sense of community serves to motivate individuals and provides the added benefit of socialization and connectedness, which have become rare during the COVID-19 pandemic. The StrongerMemory program received honorable mention recognition from the Mather Institute’s Promising Practices Awards for 2021.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) “is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia, characterized by problems with memory, language, thinking or judgment.” Common signs of MCI include repeating yourself often, frequently forgetting where you put something or frequently missing appointments or events.

Brain health has suffered a serious impact during the COVID pandemic, especially for older adults who have been isolated. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 15% to 20% of adults age 65 and older have MCI, and dementia-related deaths have increased 16% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The GHI StrongerMemory program has been a solid initiative to address the broader memory care and prevention effort at Goodwin Living with a guiding catch word “healthy body—healthy brain”.  Goodwin Living Incorporated has introduced and is expanding its Brain Health activities to make it one of the unique programs in this type of retirement center. With a goal to enhance program of memory strengthening, expand memory health and dementia awareness, GHI hired an experienced Brain Health Program Manager in early 2021, and more recently, added a StrongerMemory Coordinator, to further develop and expand the brain health program. The Brain Health Program Manager, a Certified Dementia Practitioner with a master’s degree in Gerontological Social Work, has recently been promoted to head the newly-created Brain Health Department, representing the brain health program on GHI’s senior staff decision body.

Brain Health Advance Team

She is also a member, designated Co-Shepherd, along with the head of the Assisted Living Department, of GHI’s interdisciplinary Brain Health Advance Team (formerly the Dementia Advance Team). This group is one of the action teams organized in 2018 to support the GHI Strategic Plan initiatives-with a directive to become a catalyst for a higher quality of life for persons with dementia. Other members of the Brain Health Advance Team include the StrongerMemory Coordinator, and representatives from key collaborating departments and program units: assisted living, social work, marketing and communication, recreation therapy, the GHI chief operating officer, and the Goodwin Living Foundation—who all have an interest and/or role in advancing brain health throughout GHI. All are certified Dementia Friends. The team supports knowledge, programs and services that promote care and understanding for individuals with dementia and the people who care for them. It oversees the training of staff in dementia awareness, to recognize and understand mild cognitive impairment (MCI) progressing to dementia. This team was awarded the first Dementia Friends Champion of the Year Award in 2018 by Leading Age Virginia.

Components of the Brain Health Program

Care Staff education, including:

  • Dementia awareness training for all care giver staff at both GHBC and GHA
  • Training staff in the GHI at Home program, which Goodwin Living has recently taken over and expanded.
  • The brain health team provides training for all home care staff—currently about 30 to 50 staff–to prepare them to understand and emphasize brain health for the home care participants
  • Taking charge of brain health emphasis on continuing the StrongerMemory Program for independent living residents which currently includes about 100 resident participants
  • Focus on general education for promoting health including nutrition, physical exercise and balance, and brain health

The JAVA Program to Overcome Social Isolation

GHI is introducing some components of another approach to enhance social interaction for elders: the JAVA Program, a respected commercial program which has several innovative components – music, memory, and mentorship.

Goodwin Living has received a special grant from LeadingAge Virginia to fund a new music program, designed to provide stimulation fostered by JAVA. GHBC and GHA will be rolling out this peer-supported program aimed at reducing isolation and building connections at senior living organizations. This music program will be piloted initially in the Healthcare Center at GHBC and will recruit a few resident volunteers to help support it.

After assessing the initial music program pilot results, the other JAVA approaches may be added to the GHI brain health program, including:

  • Java mental health and memory program designed to recruit GH resident volunteers and train them to make supportive visits to other residents
  • Java mentorship–GH resident volunteers partner with other staff on the dementia advanced team

The Brain Health Program is an evolving, innovative GHI initiative among its retirement centers. And prevention is an important emphasis, not just working with residents who have already entered a stage of dementia.

Brain Health Interns

Goodwin Living is also starting a program, to be funded by the Goodwin Living Foundation, to support training and orientation for two brain health interns per semester of six weeks, designed to attract nursing or social work students from local educational institutions who will work with GH residents under guidance of the Brain Health Team. The objective is to build interest and experience in elder care and brain health among new professionals and encourage them to consider future employment in this area.

Community Education and Outreach

The brain health team is also continuing its dementia-friendly effort in local communities and to seek local volunteers to help in this process, aiming to work with local organizations to promote age-friendly work environments. The GHI Dementia Advance Team’s successful earlier activities laid the groundwork took taking the lead in encouraging all Goodwin Living staff to become Dementia Friends in support of the State Dementia Plan. All members of the Dementia Advance Team became Dementia Champions, and they went out to the local communities to become catalysts for change across Northern Virginia. They trained more than 1,000 Dementia Friends outside of Goodwin Living, from first responders to church clergy and lay leaders.

Currently, 100% of the 900+ Goodwin Living staff members are Dementia Friends. Dementia Friendly training and the Virtual Dementia Tour experience have been integrated into Goodwin Living New Employee Orientation. Northern Virginia’s three Master Champion Trainers are Goodwin Living Dementia leaders and they continue to educate the greater community with support from LAVA. GHI collaborated with other local community partners and elected officials of local governments to establish three Northern Virginia Dementia Friendly Communities in Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax.

The Brain Health Department Head’s past experience in chairing the Dementia Friendly Arlington and Dementia Friendly Fairfax action teams to orient/train individuals, businesses and other community groups to become Dementia Friends also adds to the strong base from which to further expand Goodwin Living community involvement.

State and National Support

GHI President and CEO Rob Liebreich has built a broad base of interest and support in the state, gaining the endorsement for StrongerMemory and dementia/Alzheimer’s prevention from Virginia Senator Mark Warner, who also co-chairs the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Brain Health is a major, growing component of Goodwin Living Incorporated strategy to address a core need of elder residents and the broader community.

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Jessica Fredericksen, GH Brain Health Program Manager, for her important contributions to this article.  Other sources have been drawn from GHI websites.

______________

About Goodwin Living Incorporated: Celebrating 55 years of providing exceptional service to older adults, Goodwin Living Incorporated (GHI) is a not-for-profit, Virginia-based corporation affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Through its growing family of senior living and healthcare services owned and operated across Northern Virginia and in the District of Columbia, GHI serves 2,200 older adults with options that include: two Life Plan Communities—Goodwin House Alexandria and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads; an innovative continuing care at home program—Goodwin Living at Home; and a portfolio of healthcare services and partnerships delivering Home Health, Rehabilitation, Primary Care, Palliative Care, Hospice and Brain Health.

GHI also is the management agent for The Lewinsville Retirement Residences, Inc. serving low-income older adults in McLean and Great Falls, Virginia. GHI also advances its mission through the Goodwin Living Foundation, a 501(c)(3) supporting foundation that provides financial support to current and future residents in need and to fund programs dedicated to promoting growth and education of staff as well as overall well-being and vibrant living as we age.

About The Maryland Department of Aging: The Maryland Department of Aging helps to establish Maryland as an attractive location for all older adults through vibrant communities and supportive services that offer the opportunity to live healthy and meaningful lives. For more information, visit aging.maryland.gov. Follow us at http://www.twitter.com/MarylandAging and https://www.facebook.com/MarylandAging.

 

 

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