Alzheimer’s disease and dementia cases are expected to spike along with the aging population in coming years. One group is making huge inroads to prevention through what it has coined “brain training.”
Due to explosive growth and reception, the Memory Training Centers of America (MTCA) has rolled out its program to more than a hundred of senior living communities nationwide and has no plans of slowing down.
“We’ve come to the point where we’re at the wave and we’re cresting it—no one else is,” says MTCA Founder and CEO Dr. Peter Magaro.
Cases of Alzheimer’s and other related dementias in America’s senior population have grown to epidemic levels in recent years, as there are more than 5 million Americans living with the memory-impairing condition today, according to the Alzheimer’s Association 2014 Disease Facts and Figures report.
The report, released in March, finds 3.2 million of this overwhelming portion of adults are women. Cognitive degeneration, however, is also not reserved for older adults specifically, as the Alzheimer’s Association notes that 200,000 people under the age of 65 have younger-onset forms of the disease.
MTCA program is built on the idea that by providing senior living residents with early interventions to strengthen memory function, it may be possible to delay the admission to units dedicated for memory care or skilled nursing.
The group provides customized, computer-based memory training programs along with certified clinicians that administer the training in person. Through this intervention technique, MTCA is able to diagnose cognitive impairment in its earliest stages. And so far, the organization has seen substantial growth as a result.
Revenue has spiked since the organization’s inception in 2002, jumping from just $595,000 to nearly $5 million this year. That growth has propelled a vast expansion for MTCA, which currently provides its services in 125 senior living facilities in eight different states with another 200 more in the pipeline, says Magaro.
To detect early cognitive impairment—specifically memory loss—in older adults, MTCA conducts several tests that gauge memory comprehension. Individuals are tested for their capacity to remember things like names, faces and numbers. Depending on performance during these tests, MTCA can determine if an individual shows any signs of a pre-Alzheimer’s type of condition.
Residents involved in the program participate in training every three months for one year, however, the effectiveness of the program can be realized even before that full-year course is complete.
“Memory increases over three of these tests for nine months and then levels off, showing that memory improves as you’re getting the treatment,” says Magaro.
MTCA has collaborated with senior living providers, typically with those in the assisted living space, for about eight years.
Only recently in 2012-2013 has the group expanded its memory training to a larger clientele, with planned partnership agreements that include Emeritus Senior Living, New York-based provider The Bristal Assisted Living and MBK Senior Living, a provider who manages senior living communities in the Western U.S.
As the nation’s population ages and spurs greater need for memory care facilities and services, scaling MTCA’s training program to an even greater scope will be an issue.
“We’re not at the magnitude that we need to be,” says Magaro. “For us to meet the demand, we have to provide services quickly.”
Even as the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., there are still misconceptions surrounding Alzheimer’s. Nearly 25% of both men and women agreed with the mistaken belief that the disease must run in their family for them to be at risk, according to Alzheimer’s Association findings.
“Despite being the nation’s biggest health threat, Alzheimer’s disease is still largely misunderstood,” stated Angela Geiger, chief strategy officer of the Alzheimer’s Association. “Everyone with a brain—male or female, family history or not—is at risk for Alzheimer’s. Age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, and America is aging. As a nation, we must band together to protect our greatest asset, our brains.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mentioned that MCTA had a partnership agreement with Brookdale Senior Living when, in fact, it had an agreement with Emeritus Senior Living, which has since entered into a merger agreement with Brookdale. SHN regrets the error.
Written by Jason Oliva