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Memory Training Program Helps Older Adults Make Brain Gains

Forgetting where you put the car keys or your glasses or forgetting why you walked into the room are some of the most common - and annoying - signs of aging that many older adults begin to notice as the years tick by.

"Memory problems can begin to develop as early as age 45, and as many as 85 percent of older adults complain about common memory annoyances, like having difficulty remembering names," said Ellie Bruner, program coordinator at Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh (JF&CS). "Many times though, older adults are unsure of what, if any, options exist to maintain or improve their memory and cognitive function as they age."

Through AgeWell Pittsburgh, a partnership of JF&CS, the Jewish Association on Aging (JAA) and the Jewish Community Center (JCC), a new program exists that is designed to do just that. The UCLA Memory Training Program, administered through JF&CS and funded by the Lawrence and Rebecca Stern Family Foundation, is an innovative, research-based program designed for older adults ages 60 years and older. The four-week program focuses on strategies that develop good memory habits, techniques to improve memory and targets the most common memory complaints of older adults: forgetting names and faces; forgetting to do things in the future- like keeping an appointment; forgetting why they walked into a room; forgetting where they put things - like keys or glasses; and "tip of the tongue" memory challenges.

"This is a program designed to provide really practical solutions for everyday life, and it addresses the real world things that bother people when dealing with memory challenges and aging," Bruner said.

In the Memory Training Program, Bruner, a certified program trainer, helps participants learn what memory is and how it works, how memory enhancement techniques work, techniques and strategies to improve memory and how to make general improvements to memory habits. Participants also monitor memory with group discussions, memory checks and memory awareness questionnaires, practice applying memory techniques to real life situations and practice techniques learned with home-based skill builders. Memory Training is designed for older adults with mild memory concerns who wish to improve their memory ability. The course is not intended for people with Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

The curriculum requires a two-hour per week commitment for four weeks of training at JF&CS's offices in Squirrel Hill, but the program is also designed to be portable. Bruner and additional certified volunteer program trainers have conducted off-site sessions at senior living centers and community centers throughout Pittsburgh.

Many research studies, including those conducted by UCLA, have shown that the strategies taught to participants of the Memory Training course are effective in improving memory in older adults with normal, age‐related memory challenges. The benefits of memory training can last well beyond the actual course—studies show anywhere from six months to five years.

"The program is really interactive and fun," Bruner said. "It's an educational atmosphere, but there's a socialization element to this as well. It's a great way for older adults to not only work on improving their memory but also to get out in the community, socialize and build friendships, which is so important as we age."

JF&CS is currently accepting new participants into the UCLA Memory Training Program for seniors for the winter session. For more information about the Memory Training Program or to participate in the upcoming winter session, contact Ellie Bruner at ebruner@jfcspgh.org or (412) 904-5960.

Additionally, the AgeWell Pittsburgh partnership offers information, resources and a network of services regarding a number of issues related to aging—all designed to help older adults remain healthy and independent. AgeWell Pittsburgh provides services regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, place of birth, sex, sexual orientation, familial status, age, handicap or disability.

To learn more about additional resources for older adults and loved ones, visit www.jfcspgh.org or call the AgeWell Pittsburgh hotline at 1-877-243-1530 (toll-free) or (412) 422-0400.

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