Seniors work minds and muscles to prevent memory loss

Seniors participate in the Joyful Connections program at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly on April 3. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.) 

A dozen Chinese ladies gathered in a bright room at Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (JCHE). The seniors were friends, but instead of exchanging gossip, they were preventing memory loss. Together they made fresh juice and did chair exercises, helping them use their brains and bodies in a social setting.

The Joyful Connections program meets Monday to Friday, open to all JCHE residents at the 705-unit campus. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., elders enjoy a snack and group activities after adult daycare from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The time is designed to ease sundowning confusion, when individuals affected by dementia experience increased confusion. The program was launched in 2014 with funding from the Miriam Fund.

“It’s the perfect time to be engaged, do exercise and not be so anxious,” said Olena Bovdur, special programs manager. “We believe it will help them live long and independently.”

One Chinese resident was in her 90s and had severe dementia. At snack time, she wanted to give her home health aide an orange, forgetting the aide already ate her orange. She offered the aide her orange again and again, and was continually praised for her thoughtfulness.

“We saw big improvement in her behavior in the past year,” Bovdur said. “Before, she did not interact with people. Now when we do exercise — she used to be a dancer — she wants to teach people different moves. She’s more open to people, more friendly.”

Dementia isn’t a specific disease, according to the Mayo Clinic. Instead, dementia describes symptoms affecting memory, thinking and social abilities severely enough to interfere with daily functioning. The World Health Organization reports 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia and there are 7.7 million new cases every year.

The JCHE seniors have made dumplings together, watched Chinese romantic movies and gone on field trips. Seated exercises include spirited games of balloon soccer, with the women taking turns trying to throw a beach ball into a basket. Bovdur reported the women most enjoy music and dance therapy. She leads them in visualization exercises, such as imagining themselves picking apples from a tree while stretching their arms, to spark their imagination and use their brains.

“One main idea of the program is to help the person not feel isolated,” Bovdur said.

The elders speak Cantonese, with some Toisanese and Mandarin. Bovdur works with a home health aide fluent in multiple Chinese dialects who interprets, as the women share their skills. One woman who was an artist gave an origami demonstration, while a former doctor helped take everyone’s pulse to read their chi.

“I feel these ladies are my grandmothers, even though I don’t speak their language,” Bovdur said.

Each participant received an orange, apple and banana. They cut up the apple for freshly pressed juice. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.) 

Exercise is a favorite activity for the elders. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

Balloon soccer lets the ladies get on their feet, with cheers each time someone scored. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

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This post is also available in: Chinese

About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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