More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s. With no cure yet, caregivers for these seniors are doing what they can to slow the progression of the disease.
A retirement community in Glen Carbon is offering residents who have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia an innovative program called SAIDO Learning.
SAIDO — Japanese for “again” — has been practiced in Japan for more than a decade. It was developed by the Kumon Institute of Education in Japan.
The cognitive therapy program uses simple, short exercises of math, reading and writing with the goal of keeping a person’s mind sharp and hopefully slowing or reversing the effects of Alzheimer’s.
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There isn’t proven research yet in America to show the program works; however, staff members at Meridian Village in Glen Carbon are certain the program is helping its residents.
Eliza Jennings in Ohio — the first and only aging service organization in America to offer training for SAIDO Learning — is so confident in the program that they are currently funding a medical research study, which includes Meridian Village.
“We have seen tremendous success in the older adults who have received the cognitive therapy,” said Sheryl Sereda, vice president of Eliza Jennings.
Rarely do older adults who have dementia or Alzhemeir’s see improvements, they rather tend to decline, according to Sereda. However, SAIDO Learning participants often improve or stay the same, she said.
Meridian Village has been offering the program to 20 of its residents the last three years. “We have seen great results with our residents,” said Sarah Burch, care center administrator.
The goal of the program is “increased quality of life,” she said.
Assisted Living and Memory Care Administrator Chassity Kaiser said Meridian has a “strong” SAIDO program and is excited to be part of a national study.
“I think the results from our study will benefit the greater community,” she said.
It doesn’t take Irene Pothoff long to read a few passages or complete a sheet full of math problems during a SAIDO Learning session.
The 20 to 30 minutes of brain work five days a week help the 95-year-old resident of Meridian Village keep her mind where it needs to be.
Kaiser, who is one of 50 staff members trained in SAIDO, cheers Pothoff on when needed. “Keep going, you are doing well,” Kaiser says as Pothoff works on simple math problems.
Kaiser also encourages Pothoff to say the answers aloud. “Would you say it out loud for me?” she asks Pothoff. “2+2 is 4,” Pothoff responds.
When Pothoff gets to the end of the sheet of math problems, Kaiser pulls out another sheet.
“Not more,” Pothoff says.
“It’s super easy for you, Irene. You got it,” Kaiser tells her.
Following three math sheets, Pothoff completed a memory board where she placed numbered red, white and yellow pieces on a board in the correct order from 1 to 30. Then Pothoff said all the numbers out loud.
Next was reading — Pothoff read a passage and then wrote a word Kaiser asked her to write on the sheet.
“My handwriting stinks so you don’t have to worry about it being pretty,” she tells Pothoff.
After completing all the work, Kaiser pulls out a red marker and grades it in front of Pothoff. She got a 100 on everything.
“Everybody gets a 100 no matter what,” Burch said. “It’s meant to be a positive experience.”
Even though the work may seem easy, “if we keep it simple, that will strengthen the base,” Kaiser said.
It’s essential for participants to “read it, see it and write it...for layered learning,” she said.
Prior to starting SAIDO, an individual is tested in advance to ensure they are on the appropriate level.
“It’s not supposed to be difficult,” Burch said. “It’s supposed to be very easy for them.”
Participants are retested every six months. “We have typically seen people stay steady in their scores. We have also seen people with increases,” she said. “With the typical progression of dementia those scores would decrease.”
Benefits of SAIDO
Pothoff’s daughter, Janice Bellm of Glen Carbon, said the learning program helps keep her mother’s mind sharp.
Pothoff has had dementia for the last decade. Over the last six years, Bellm said the dementia hasn’t progressed, and her family hopes it stays that way.
SAIDO Learning is one of the things that attracted the family to Meridian Village after Pothoff broke her hip and was unable to walk on her own much anymore.
She’s been participating in the cognitive therapy program for nearly a year. “She has done fabulous,” Bellm said of her mom.
Bellm visits her mother nearly every day and leaves just before the 11 a.m. SAIDO Learning session begins so Pothoff can focus on the therapy.
“It keeps her mind more alert,” Bellm said.
She appreciates that Meridian Village provides the program on a consistent basis for its residents.
“I think she benefits from it,” Bellm said of her mother. “If she wasn’t stimulated everyday, she would just sleep.”
Pothoff raised four children including Janice and has a slew of grandchildren and great grandchildren with more on the way.
The stay-at-home mom was an avid golfer and tells everyone she can about the four different times she got a hole-in-one, Bellm said.
Kaiser said she’s seen program participants experience mental benefits like “increased cognition” as well as social benefits.
“Our residents are sometimes non-speaking or they speak very little,” she said. “The more they participate in SAIDO, they come out of that shell.”
Meridian Village is one of nine organizations participating in a medical study on SAIDO Learning, which is being lead by Eliza Jennings in Ohio.
A Cleveland Clinic physician is serving as the principal investigator of the study, according to Sereda, vice president of Eliza Jennings.
Sereda explained that five of the sites taking part in the study, including Meridian Village, are SAIDO Learning partners, which means they are licensed to practice SAIDO and currently practice it with individuals who have cognitive impairment.
The other four are organizations with an interest in SAIDO Learning, she said. They are serving as “controlled sites” and practicing just socialization with seniors who have cognitive impairment.
“The idea is to learn as to whether it’s the added socialization that these individuals engage in or is it SAIDO Learning that’s helping these individuals,” Sereda said.
Following the trial, data will be compared to determine “what is actually causing these individuals to have improvement in symptoms of dementia,” she said.
Data from seven different cognitive assessment tools will be used to calculate and analyze outcomes from the trial, according to Sereda.
The trial launched in the fall of last year and continues for a full year.
“We are going to look at a preliminary report in New Orleans during the Leading Age national conference,” at the end of October, Sereda said.
She expects the study will be published in medical journals once it’s complete.
In addition to Meridian Village in Glen Carbon, one other site in Illinois is participating in the study — Holmstad retirement community in Batavia.
The medical study aims to ensure there’s some data behind the cognitive therapy.
Currently, the cost for treating and serving adults with dementia in America is nearly $259 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
“It’s a cost that can’t be sustained,” Sereda said.
She hopes the medical study will provide more validity to SAIDO Learning.
If they prove the program works, then it can become an accepted cognitive therapy that will be reimbursed by the federal government and more people will have access to it, she said.
Eliza Jennings has been using SAIDO Learning with its patients for the past five years.
“We are really, really excited to be engaged in the trial,” Sereda said. “To see an older adult coming into a session and actually enjoy themselves, its an uplifting experience.”
Tips to keep your brain sharp
- Brain exercises
- Reading out loud
- Brain twisters
- Matching, memory games
- Adult coloring books