Tribune Print Share Text

A healthy memory for life

First in a three-part series

Created date

August 21st, 2012

Keeping your memory sharp is not only good for your brain, it may also help you maintain your overall function for as long as possible, says Eugenio Machado, M.D., medical director at. target="_blank"> Riderwood, an Erickson Living community in Silver Spring, Md. But what s the best way to take care of your memory? And is it worth it to try if you already have dementia? Research shows that it may be beneficial to exercise your memory at all stages of your life, Machado says. That s why Erickson Living s Memory Support program is being developed on every Erickson Living campus. We are as committed to our residents cognitive health as we are to their physical health, says Margaret Stewart, D.H.A., senior director of health services clinical programming for EricksonLiving. All Erickson Living residents (whether they live in an independent living apartment home or in the on-site continuing care neighborhood) can participate in one of the three components of the Memory Support program. This program can help anyone, Stewart says, from those who want to prevent memory problems to people who need more support because of dementia-related illnesses. The three parts of Memory Support are Memory Fitness, Memory Health, and Memory Care. Where you belong in the Memory Support program depends on your level of cognitive functioning and your diagnosis, Machado says. There s something for everyone in Memory Support. Memory Fitness is for people who have no memory problems and want to stay sharp, Stewart says. Memory Health is for those who are in the early stages of dementia, and Memory Care is designed to help people in the middle or late stages of dementia. All elements of Memory Support have the goal of keeping you as independent as possible.

How Memory Fitness works

Memory Fitness starts with a Wellness Medical Visit. Medicare covers this annual visit, Machado says. It s a thorough assessment of your health status, and that includes an evaluation of your cognitive function. If your doctor discovers a memory problem during this exam, it doesn t necessarily mean you have dementia. Once I ve identified a memory problem, we have to determine whether or not it s permanent, Machado says. Memory problems may be the result of medication side effects or other treatable conditions. Once your doctor has given you the green light, you can start attending Memory Fitness classes. These classes are twice a week for six weeks, Stewart says. You learn how to take care of yourself by eating a nutritious diet, reducing stress, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Classes also include memory exercises such as learning a new game, skill, or anything that helps the brain make new connections. These mental aerobics may help you deal with normal age-related memory problems. There is increasing scientific evidence that reading aloud may help to exercise your brain, Machado says. When you read aloud, you are, in fact, using a lot of your brain s circuitry. The education you receive in Memory Fitness is very valuable, Machado continues. It teaches you how to do the right things for your brain health, and helps you weed out misinformation, Machado says. We keep our residents informed about memory-preserving strategies that have solid scientific evidence behind them, Stewart says. You don t want to waste your time on things that haven t been proven to help memory, such as taking estrogen, gingko, and antioxidants. Self-directed activities are the third component of Memory Fitness. These are things to do that will help you continue working on your brain health long after classes have ended. Self-directed activities can be anything that helps you develop a new interest or hobby, or something that helps you relieve feelings of stress. Some Erickson Living campuses have resource libraries in place so that residents can read more about cognitive health, Stewart explains. All campuses have many social groups to get involved with and other interesting activities. target="_blank">Charlestown, an Erickson Living community in Catonsville, Md., has Mind Over Matter carts that rotate throughout campus lobbies. These carts contain reading material, memory games, and other activities to help strengthen brain function, Stewart says. It s very popular among residents.