Watermark Retirement Communities has launched an innovative partnership with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) on a new program to engage residents’ memory through a new learning program known as the “BrainCafe.”
The partnership involves UCLA’s Longevity Center and is designed for memory care residents with mild memory challenges. That is notable given that many assisted living residents already live with mild memory impairment.
Activities and instruction of the programming is based on science-backed memory research, specifically the use of mnemonic techniques including songs, poems, patterns, word association and more.
The program includes eight, one-hour sessions once per week and teaches participants memory-based tactics as well as the typical frills of a high-end memory care operator. The program has been rolled out at 54 of Watermark’s independent living communities.
Through the partnership, UCLA Longevity Center certifies Watermark staff to take the class that’s been rolled out to 54 IL communities and is in the midst of rolling out its product with a public-facing component that allows others to access the program from training at a community.
One unique technique in the program is called the Roman Room, and the exercises ask participants to imagine a room they know and recognize, and then residents will name an object in that imagined space. That’s akin to taking a tour of the room mentally to recall memory and recall objects.
Watermark also partners with the University of Arizona on brain health and aging research to incorporate wellness concepts into building design, nutrition and enrichment programming, according to the company’s website.
Linda Ercoli, interim director of the UCLA Longevity Center, said the partnership with Watermark helps UCLA access “a national community we’ve wanted to reach.”
The eight-week program meets once weekly for an hour in small groups with programming focused on new material each week to learn and discuss new concepts, according to Executive Director of The Legacy at Eerie Station Colleen Varney.
“We talk about some different techniques to help just not necessarily improve memory, but enhance the memory that we have and we have like a little bag of tricks to pull from when people get stuck,” Varney said. “I always tell them, you know, our brain is just like any other muscle. If we don’t use it, we’re going to lose it.”
Participants in the program are given take-home materials to help continue their learning until the next meeting date. Varney added that while the program is rolled out across IL communities, the BrainCafe is geared towards people who may be showing signs of memory decline.
Through the program, residents are also able to build robust social relationships, being able to compare and contrast strategies together. For getting staff on the same page, the BrainCafe offers quarterly training for staff to equip them with the tools needed to execute the program.
“We’re an aging community or we’re an aging society. You know, we’re continuing to have people living longer and longer, healthy and engaged and active,” Varney said. “It definitely supports our mission statement of creating extraordinary and innovative communities where people thrive.”