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Brain Training

Much has been written about exercises designed to improve memory and even stave off dementia. While this new facility makes no such promises, participants are noticing their own quality-of-life results.

The Brain Emporium, Northeast Ohio’s first computerized brain fitness center, is a mind gymnasium where local elders can pump up their mental strength and increase their flexibility. Founder and director T.J. McCallum, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, envisioned such an exercise center three years ago. With funding from the university, doors opened this spring. Located in the Fairhill Partners complex in Cleveland, the facility gives older adults the opportunity to work with cutting-edge, brain-training programs and games at little to no cost. “Seniors are sharpening their recall and other mental processes at The Brain Emporium, a community center program in Cleveland, Ohio.” Judson resident Josephine Rich has found her participation in The Brain Emporium both enjoyable and helpful. “This is great because I feel that I am benefiting from all of this fun,” she said. “I enjoy the challenge. I really think my recall is better. I find that I don’t have to refer to my lists as often.” The Brain Emporium’s computerized programs are designed to engage and stimulate different areas of cognition, including memory, visual-spatial abilities, mental flexibility, processing speed, language and planning. Another regular Brain Emporium attendee, Mickey Lewin, believes the games have helped improve her memory. “People can tell me numbers and I don’t have to have them repeat them,” she observed. “I don’t reverse numbers like I used to. I remember more things now.” Visitors to The Brain Emporium work with McCallum and his graduate student assistants, who design brain-training regimens tailored to an individual’s interests and abilities. In addition to offering a diverse array of brain-fitness computer programs, the Brain Emporium encourages older adults to engage in physical movement, thereby building coordination and agility, while playing virtual tennis, bowling or darts on a Nintendo Wii. Students from the Intergenerational School at Fairhill can earn privileges to volunteer at the Brain Emporium and instruct the older adults on the Wii. Right now, the Brain Emporium is open to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; however, hours may increase to meet growing demand. McCallum is also currently creating an undergraduate class that incorporates brain fitness programs and educational information designed to help older adults maintain a healthy brain. “Professor T.J. McCallum and graduate students custom-design a regimen of computer games and programs for each individual’s needs and wants. “ The Brain Emporium programs aren’t yet proven to slow diseases such as Alzheimer’s, but do engage elders and sharpen their minds. McCallum says, “If you don’t use your body, it atrophies and the same is true for the brain.” Although McCallum is not testing whether the games delay dementia, he believes cognitive enhancement/engagement is extremely important and useful as a very broad disease preventative behavior. Just as physical exercise for 20 minutes a day may never be shown to delay cancer (or even heart disease for most people), it is still remains wise to exercise. He believes the same to be true of challenging your mind every day. Editor’s note: A more specific look into the value of working with the Nintendo Wii is the subject of an upcoming article.