the field of dementia care is
chanGinG, and the homes are
part of the forward push
By Laura Normand
It took a few months of training on an unlikely
computer program, but Gloria A. rediscovered
a part of her she thought was lost forever.
Once a lounge singer, this Masonic Homes
resident stopped performing some years ago.
Eventually, she gave up singing altogether.
But when a team from Cal State East Bay
challenged Gloria, then 84, to master new
computer technology, something clicked. It
took work, but she succeeded. She began to rethink other ways she’d lost confidence. Could
they, too, be overcome?
As we reach retirement age and beyond,
we’re often told to sit back and relax; let others
do the heavy lifting. But as the saying goes, if
you don’t use it, you lose it. Once-sharp skills –
and overall brain functioning – can decline.
Not if Nidhi Mahendra can help it.
Mahendra, an assistant professor at Cal State
East Bay, has just completed a four-year study
at the Masonic Home at Union City that will
change the field of memory support and dementia care. Her work supports a new mantra
in memory: use it and improve it.
everyday technology might help individuals
with memory loss regain lost skills, or acquire
new ones. She used devices like computers,
video cameras, and PDAs to see if a person
with memory loss could master a new game,
learn how to use a memory device, or even
learn safety strategies to improve skills like
balance or mobility.
Mahendra sought out retirement communities in the East Bay, and found the
Masonic Home at Union City. Mahendra and
a small team engaged more than 100 resident
volunteers, from all areas of the Home – independent living, assisted living, Traditions (the
Alzheimer’s unit), and even skilled nursing.
All went through extensive neuropsychologi-cal testing. About 40 went on to individualized
“cognitive intervention,” or training plans. For
up to six months, they met with clinicians
twice a week for an hour at a time.
One resident wanted to learn how to e-mail
family in Southern California. Mahendra’s
team, with the help of the Home’s IT department, made it possible. Another resident was
having difficulty mastering a new microwave. They helped him
learn how to use it.
The study proved that individuals with memory loss can learn
Making new memories
Mahendra received a grant in 2005 from
the Alzheimer’s Association to study how
Beginning again, after diagnosis
Five years ago, this type of memory treatment didn’t exist. Fifteen
years ago, it was inconceivable.
Historically, dementia research focused on improving screening
methods for determining if an individual had dementia – and that
was that. Until now, “clinicians and family members alike have
kind of assumed that the person with dementia can’t do anything,”