Brookdale Rolls Out New Wellness Program

The nation’s largest senior living provider has enlisted the help of a neuropsychologist to get as many residents as possible actively involved in their own brain health, through a multdimensional program being rolled out in communities across the country.

Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) now offers its residents wellness programming that explores the concept of brain health through hands-on activities and classroom learning. The program tackles topics such as memory capabilities, which is very important to aging Americans; in fact, losing your memory or other mental abilities is the No. 1 fear that older Americans have about aging, according to the recent AP NORC Long-Term Care Survey.

The Brentwood, Tennessee-based provider, which currently has about 1,121 communities with 108,000 units throughout the United States, had known the topic of brain health was of interest to its residents for some time before rolling out the “BrainFit” program to all of its communities.

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“We’ve really had a lot of interest around brain health among our residents for quite a while,” Carol Cummings, senior director of Optimum Life engagement and innovation at Brookdale, told Senior Housing News.

The time was finally right to capitalize on that interest, Cummings said, when Dr. Paul Nussbaum, who is board certified in clinical and geropsychology with a specialty in neuropsychology, as well as an adjunct professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, burst onto the Brookdale scene.

Nussbaum had previously worked with Emeritus Corp. for years, and post-merger, his relationship to Brookdale strengthened.

“We sort of inherited him from Emeritus,” Shawna Zody, Brookdale’s public relations manager, explained to SHN.

The BrainFit program Nussbaum and Brookdale collaborated to create is multi-faceted. Mental stimulation, exercise and physical activity, social connectedness, nutrition, and spirituality all play a part in brain health, according to Nussbaum. Thus, the classroom portion of the program, which is referred to as “Know Your Brain” and delivered by Nussbaum and Cummings in video format, stresses the importance of these six factors, Brookdale said in a press release.

Then, there’s the “Flex Your Brain” portion, which is a biweekly mental fitness workout covering six cognitive areas: long-term memory, working memory, processing speed, executive functioning, multitasking and attention to detail.

The “Grow Your Brain” portion of BrainFit, meanwhile, is meant to give residents the chance to engage in complex activities designed to help form new connections in the brain, like acting classes, learning a foreign language, woodworking projects and talent shows.

In July, Brookdale plans to roll out the fourth and last portion of the initiative, “Boost Your Brain.” This portion is meant to educate residents about how memory works, as well as inform them how they can boost and support their own memory.

At least 25,000 to 30,000 Brookdale residents have taken part in the program since it began in March, Cummings estimated, and she said the program has been “extremely well-received.”

“Residents love learning about how their brain works, and they love the empowering, ‘make-your-own-plan’ aspect of the program,” Cummings said. Empowering residents is key, especially when it comes to their memories, she said.

“This initiative shows residents there are things they can do to reduce their risk of dementia,” Cummings said. “It makes people feel like they’re in control.” 

With BrainFit, Brookdale is joining other providers that are taking a multifaceted approach to brain health with the goal of staving off cognitive decline. California-based memory care provider Silverado, for instance, saw dramatic improvements in its residents’ rates of memory loss after the company implemented Nexus, a research-based program for people with mild cognitive impairment.

Written by Mary Kate Nelson

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