oodwin House, a senior living and health care services organization based in the Washington D.C. area, will unveil a new program on World Alzheimer’s Awareness Day  (September 21) designed to help those affected by the disease.

The program known as Stronger Memory is a curriculum designed to stimulate the brain, specifically the prefrontal cortex, in order to help patients with Alzheimer’s to retain their cognitive control functions.

According to Dr. Catherine Tompkins, a professor at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services, the prefrontal cortex plays a major role in cognitive control functions influencing attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory, and cognitive flexibility. 

Tompkins has studied Alzheimer’s Disease and other related dementias for 13 years and has worked with the Goodwin House and Mason’s Gerontology Research Team for nearly a year to develop the curriculum. 

“My career began with exploring the needs of the direct care workforce and what knowledge and skills are imperative to provide quality of care to frail older adults. Over the years my career has evolved, and I am now a part of a gerontology team examining the impact of non-pharmacological interventions on older adults and their care partners faced with normal aging challenges, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia,” said Tompkins.

In the Stronger Memory curriculum, participants spend approximately 20 to 30 minutes daily engaged in reading, writing, and simple math activities. The program was developed by Goodwin House President and CEO Rob Liebreich after his own mother started showing signs of mild cognitive impairment.

The program is similar to other non-pharmacological treatments that the Gero Research Team participates in such as TimeSlips. TimeSlips is a group storytelling intervention designed to help stimulate socializing for people with dementia. The Gero Team also participates in Telestories which takes the same approach but brings it to individuals outside of the group. 

“Participants may not notice any cognitive changes but are motivated to participate in the program often because of fears related to receiving a diagnosis of dementia or because of family and friends encouraging their participation.  Other participants may be experiencing normal aging cognitive changes, mild cognitive impairment, or maybe challenged with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Like the other non-pharmacological interventions that the Mason Gero Research team studies, we are beginning to explore the impact of Stronger Memory on cognitive functioning, memory, and life satisfaction,” said Tompkins.

As Tompkins and the Gero Research Team continue to study the effects that Stronger Memory has in helping to retain cognitive control function they hope to offer the program to more older adults who may be experiencing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. 

Goodwin House will officially launch the Stronger Memory program with the premiere of a public service announcement featuring U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia). Warner is a co-chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease along with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine). The task force has worked to advance research and public awareness of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia since its founding in 1999.

Other members of the task force include U.S. House of Representatives Co-Chairs Maxine Waters (D-California) and Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts), and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania).

The event will also feature both Liebreich and Tompkins who will speak on the impact of the Stronger Memory Program. Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson will also speak about the program. Alexandria was designated a dementia-friendly city by Dementia Friendly America, a national network of communities, organizations, and individuals that seek to ensure that communities across the U.S. are equipped to support people living with dementia and their caregivers.

World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month was established to raise awareness of the disease and challenge the stigma surrounding those with dementia. The month also coincides with World Alzheimer’s Day which happens September 21. 

Increasing the awareness of this disease is more important than ever as the population ages,” said Tompkins. “The Social Work Department at George Mason is committed to raising awareness about Alzheimer’s disease throughout the year and welcome World Alzheimer’s Awareness Month as an opportunity to spotlight the research and practice in this field.  While we’ve learned so much about Alzheimer’s disease, there is much urgent research to be done in this field.”

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