Mind University

Are you forgetful? And, if so, does it worry you . . normally? Then use your head.

Thanks to mind-boggling research, built upon decades of investigation and accelerating over recent years, scientists are just starting to reveal the mysteries of the world inside your head.

No one knows for sure, but at latest “count,” the human brain contains an estimated 86 to 100 billion neurons (nerve cells). Each is linked to so many others that the entire network creates trillions of connections, making your brain the most complicated object known in the universe.

And did you know those neurons have the capability of living more than 100 years, creating new pathways to learning and memory? Essentially, your brain is a life-long learner. Think of your brain as your “mental muscle,” never resting, ever churning through life’s experiences to create new memories – the stuff of which makes you uniquely you. To keep those neurons and connections sharp, the brain craves regular exercise – yes, exercise that energizes, challenges and heals both the body and the mind.

Think Mind Aerobics

Ready to put your brain power to the test? Welcome to Mind Aerobics – a breakthrough, science-based cognitive fitness program recently launched by Jewish Family Service (JFS) in partnership with Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) to help older adults maintain and even improve cognitive function.

Conceived as a component of a larger community wellness initiative known as Mind University (or Mind U), Mind Aerobics is a proprietary suite of mental fitness exercises developed by the New England Cognitive Center (NECC), a nonprofit organization based in Connecticut. The program works to combine neuroscience with sound educational principles to create effective interventions with the potential to stem the tide of dementia, depression and other illnesses in older adults. JFS and JVS are the first and only agencies  outside the east coast to offer Mind Aerobics to the public. The two instructors trained and certified to run the sessions for the community are Angela Popoff, LMSW and Mind U Coordinator at JFS, and Stacey Molinaro, LMSW at JVS.

“We used to think that only children could develop new stem cells in the brain,” explains Angela. “While a host of disorders and illnesses can affect an ‘aging’ brain, current research now shows us that even older adults can generate new stem cells.”

“That’s where Mind Aerobics comes in,” adds Stacey. “It engages all areas of the brain, putting the new cells to work.

“There are games and computer programs on the market today that promise to improve your cognitive power. However, without pre- and post-testing, it’s impossible to evaluate progress,” says Yuliya Gaydayenko, Senior Director of Older Adult Services at Jewish Family Service. “We chose a well-researched program, one with proven results based on pre- and post-testing and a curriculum that we could replicate here in our community.”

The key to Mind Aerobics is the concept of novelty; exposing one’s brain to new and different activities that are outside one’s daily routine. That novelty comes in the form of a series of activities designed to stimulate six key functions of the brain:

    • Reaction time: targeting speed, accuracy and automatic responses
    • Visual/spatial perception: assessing one’s perspective and relationship to his or her environment
    • Attention and concentration: improving the ability to focus which enhances memory
    • Memory: focused on improving the ability to move information through the memory network, from short-term to long-term
    • Language: targeting word fluency, retrieval and appropriate usage
    • Problem solving: more abstract activities to understand complex scenarios and to formulate solutions

No workout clothes required!

Designed for fun in a relaxed, social setting, Mind Aerobics classes are organized by cognitive level and participants are grouped into classes based on their cognitive function:  normal cognition, mild decline, early or mid-stages of dementia.  Each level has 24 sessions that gradually increase in challenges over the course of 12 weeks.

The Mind Wellness initiative, including the Mind Aerobics program was launched largely as a result of a generous grant from The Jewish Fund, and will kick-start a full offering of classes, resources, individual consultations and assessment services to promote lifestyle choices that can help keep older adults healthier as they age. To learn more about Mind University and Mind Aerobics, including program fees, call the Jewish Family Service Resource Center at 248-592-2313.