WCU students promote Haywood senior center’s Brain Gym

Students from Western Carolina University’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders recently helped increase awareness of the unique Boomerang Brain Gym at the Haywood County Senior Resource Center in Waynesville.

Kristin Cross and Bree Branch of WCU’s program in speech and language pathology received a grant through the Honors College at WCU to explore the effectiveness of “Brain Bikes” and to help increase local participation for the Brain Gym. The students developed a five-week challenge in which participants in three teams committed to encouraging each other to reach weekly goals.

The university encourages students to become involved in community development through service learning. Leigh Odom, professor of communication sciences and disorders, connected the students with Yvonne Gold, program coordinator for the Senior Resource Center, to learn why the Brain Gym wasn’t being utilized and to develop effective community involvement strategies for the resource center.

During the Challenge, participants committed to attending a one-hour session, one day each week for five weeks. They learned how to operate the Brain Bikes and complete the cognitive activities, developed relationships and became accountable to others in one of three small groups. They also were offered a free cognitive assessment administered by Odom and graduate students in her department. Fourteen local residents completed the summer challenge and earned t-shirts designed for the event.

The participants attended regularly and became increasingly independent in using the Brain Bikes.

Participant Mary Sursavage said of herself and husband Butch, “We really enjoyed the Brain Gym experience. The games were fun and challenging – especially challenging was remembering to continue to pedal as we did the games. We plan to go back and continue with the Brain Gym on our own and continue to exercise our brains.”

Polly LaPointe added, “You can really see the progress you’re making, and it is a real boost. I highly recommend it to other seniors. I appreciated the hands-on training that was provided. The encouragement was also very important.”

The students also hoped to provide some insights into the challenges faced by the Senior Resource Center in increasing participation in the Brain Gym. Assessing their efforts, Odom said, “Kristin and Bree want to be speech-language pathologists, and this profession is not just about managing cognitive, communicative, and swallowing disorders when they happen, but about preventing them as much as possible. The commitment and passion these students have shown is actually pretty typical of Western’s students.”

Gold agreed. “We were thrilled to have Kristin and Bree with us for the Brain Challenge. The project was a win-win. We were able to give seniors an opportunity to enhance their cognitive abilities while promoting the Brain Gym, and the students were able to complete a project for which they received credit toward their degrees. Bree and Kristin put their all into the project and did a great job.”

Though the students’ involvement at the Brain Gym has ended, Gold emphasized that its benefits continue at the center. “We invite all seniors in the area to stop by the Senior Resource Center and use the bikes to improve both their physical and mental health,” she said.

The Senior Resource Center received two grants in 2011 to create the Brain Gym, providing seven NeuroActive Brain Bikes that can simultaneously stimulate reasoning, memory, language, quantitative, visual skills and physical activity – improving overall health as well as combating age-related cognitive decline.

Jim Parham (right) exercises his legs as well as mental processing speed and visuospatial skills while playing What Time Is It? Sara Parham (left) is playing Clearance Tag, a game addressing attention, visual scanning and coordination skills by having the player click the red tags.

Jim Parham exercises his legs as well as mental processing speed and visuospatial skills while playing What Time Is It? Sara Parham is playing Clearance Tag, a game addressing attention, visual scanning and coordination skills by having the player click the red tags.