How the New Orleans JCC’s Mind Matters program is improving the lives of aging adults.
The New Orleans JCC has always sought to enhance the well-being of its community, starting with early childhood and continuing throughout the lifespan.
With this in mind, the JCC launched the Mind Matters program in 2011. The program is designed specifically for those concerned about their memory. As a boot camp for the mind, participants discover techniques to improve memory, participate in stimulating discussions and learn from others undergoing similar challenges.
“We know how important it is to keep our bodies fit for optimum health, and research is unanimous in supporting it is similarly important to tend to our brain health,” said Allison Freeman, a co-director of Mind Matters. “In the program, we try to incorporate all we know is good for our minds and ourselves.”
Throughout the day, participants are challenged in a fun and supportive atmosphere. Participants learn new and different things from giant spiders to rituals from around the world. The co-directors employ various memory techniques to retain what the participants have learned, one of them being through song.
“A fun and challenging exercise is learning a song by ear,” said Freeman. “Each week we add a new verse until the song is fully learned. The exercise demonstrates what we know about revisiting and repeating information that we learn and the value of sharing information — in this case, a song — with others.”
Mind Matters participants interact socially with the other group members, sometimes interviewing each other or breaking into small groups, and always eating lunch together. Additionally, they take part in a 30-minute exercise session led by JCC fitness instructors, focusing on strength, balance and aerobics. Throughout the day they’re prompted to get up periodically to move, reminding them how important it is to not become sedentary. Each day is closed with meditation or relaxation exercises to model the importance of such techniques for stress reduction — a major factor in brain health.
“Many of the participants have told us the program has helped them with their focus and attention, as well as their feelings regarding their brain health,” said Freeman. “Many have been in the program for years, both because they enjoy it and because they feel it is working to help keep their minds sharp. For some, it is their main social outlet. Friendships have been forged and circles have become wider as a result. The peer support is also a real benefit, as individuals can speak about their concerns or fears about memory in a safe space.”
While Mind Matters is a resource for the people who are enrolled in the program, it’s also beneficial for their family members. Loved ones appreciate the support their relative receives from peers in the program, as well as the fact their relative is engaged and challenged.
“Overall, the program broadens our community’s offerings for folks who are concerned about their memory or who have early memory loss and helps destigmatize these issues,” said Freeman. “For people who are just starting to notice changes in their memory, Mind Matters says you need not take this lying down. All the research points to the importance of lifestyle in maintaining brain health and joining Mind Matters is something community members can do to be proactive and keep their mind as sharp as possible.”
Photo courtesy of the New Orleans JCC.