By Alexander Germanis
One of the greatest gifts we can get is more quality time with our loved ones, especially as those loved ones enter their later years. As our parents and grandparents enjoy living life to the fullest, these years can also be a time of mutual benefit as they impart their wisdom upon the younger generations.
Unfortunately, there are many people who do not get to enjoy that retirement time. Even if the years fail to take their toll on their physical wellbeing, our loved ones can experience memory impairments and even Alzheimer’s disease, which now affects one out of every ten adults age 65 and older.
There is hope on the horizon. Recently implemented at Lutheran Hillside Village Senior Living Community in Peoria, Illinois, is a new program for memory care residents — a program with proven results. Although not a cure for dementia or Alzheimer’s, it has nevertheless successfully treated the symptoms and offers greater wellbeing and an enhanced quality of life to older adults living with those ailments. Ultimately this program gives what we hope for our families — more quality time with those we love.
Sanicia Dudley, a certified nursing assistant, is the social service coordinator and SAIDO Learning Champion at Lutheran Hillside Village, a Lutheran Senior Services community. With a decade of work in memory care, she is extremely excited about the implementation of the new SAIDO Learning program.
“The whole purpose of this program is to be able to instill a sense of hope for the people who are participating in it,” she says. “The program works by stimulating the prefrontal cortex of the brain. That is where things like thinking, controlling [one’s] actions, communication, and managing emotions are housed. And as we know, those are some of the major things that affect people with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
Developed by the Kumon Institute of Learning in Japan, SAIDO has delivered dramatic results for more than 12 years, but has only recently been introduced in the United States. “SAIDO Learning is an innovative non-pharmacological treatment,” Sanicia adds. “One of the biggest and most exciting things about this is that there are no drugs involved. It’s strictly about working with people one-on-one, going through these simple cognitive exercises in a very positive learning environment.”
Japan’s success is certainly something Lutheran Hillside Village and its sister communities wish to emulate. In Japan, more than 18,000 adults with dementia have seen positive results because of SAIDO Learning. “The whole purpose is to give the residents a better quality of life,” adds Sanicia. “The word SAIDO means “again.” It’s a way for families to be able to enjoy having the person they once knew back again.”
The three R’s
Learning is never meant to cease for any of us, and for residents engaged in SAIDO, that is certainly true. And it is the fundamentals of learning upon which the success of SAIDO is based.
“It focuses on reading, writing, and arithmetic,” Sanicia points out. “There are several specialized worksheets that have been formulated — about 1,080 different ones that can be used based on the individual progress of each resident.”
Before delving into those, the memory care staff focuses on preliminary testing to determine each resident’s “just-right level.” Residents might start at a different level to best meet their needs. “For example — in the reading and writing exercise — depending on the level of cognition for the resident, residents could start with maybe two words they read out loud versus someone who is not as advanced in the disease process,” Sanicia describes. “Other residents might read up to 30 words per page. It’s very specific to the resident. It’s the same thing with the math worksheets. They could go from counting a couple dots on a page to doing simple multiplication.”
SAIDO “supporters,” as they are called, also present a number board to the resident or “learner.” Using a 30-number board, a 50 and a 100, the learner uses magnetic numbered chips, which they then match up to the number on the board. Sanicia explains, “We usually time them and see how quickly they can get through that. And again, the number board we use depends on their cognitive deficit.”
“The whole purpose of the actual session is not for it to be difficult for them, which a lot of people find strange,” she continues. “It’s supposed to be easy for them, very encouraging; they shouldn’t have to struggle through it. There are a lot of MRI brain scan images that show when you do simple math and reading out loud versus doing complex math and reading to yourself, there’s a lot more stimulation in the brain.”
Those brain scans are shared with the resident learners at the start of each session to remind them that the simplicity of the exercises is what makes them so beneficial.
As aggression and impatience often accommodate dementia, an air of positivism surrounds each session. “Sometimes we’ll start conversations with them so we can give them an opportunity to reminisce about things and talk about family — anything positive,” Sanicia says.
The entire SAIDO session lasts 30 minutes, with five sessions completed per week. That level of involvement has been found to be necessary in order to reduce or reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But Sanicia assures, aside from the number board, the material differs from session to session.
Spread of success
Although SAIDO Learning is new at Lutheran Hillside Village, the fight against the symptoms of dementia has proven quite successful elsewhere. They are the third of Lutheran Senior Services communities to share this program with the residents of their memory care neighborhoods.
Already there have been wonderful results in other communities, including one resident who, since engaging in SAIDO, has moved from assisted living to independent living. Others have resumed hobbies and activities thought forever forgotten and discarded due to their dementia. “We’re always talking about the possibilities,” Sanicia adds. “Seeing their progress, even if it’s just a tiny step forward, is so rewarding.”
A sense of purpose, a feeling of hope
For Lutheran Hillside Village residents and their families, the hope and purpose that SAIDO brings has been uplifting. Sanicia understands this personally as her own grandfather suffered from dementia. “There is this horrible feeling they’re just going to continually get worse and worse and it’s going to be a rapid disease process,” she recalls. “I saw how quickly my grandfather changed. He had always been such a nice guy and [suddenly] he had so much aggression, anger, and those things that come with dementia. It was very, very difficult to see him going through that.”
“If only I would have heard of SAIDO back then,” she begins. “Just being able to have that person as they are, a little bit longer, to help eliminate some of those aggressive behaviors or that agitation, to help them remember who you are a little bit longer — all those things are very important to the families. And it is even more important to have a better quality of life for the person who is actually going through the disease.”
Sanicia and all of Lutheran Hillside Village are extremely excited to witness the success of the SAIDO program firsthand. “For us to be able to offer something to people that can actually help them improve, to me that’s unheard of,” she beams. “And for us to be a part of it after seeing the other success stories, I’m so excited.”
Being able to offer SAIDO Learning to the residents and offer that sense of hope to them and their heartbroken families is only part of it. “For the staff, it gives them an additional sense of purpose,” she continues. “Every person here has a passion and calling to work with these people. And to give them something to get involved in, to give that hope, that sense of purpose, that improvement — to me it’s amazing. I’m just very excited and I can’t wait to start having our own success stories we can share.”
To find out more about SAIDO Learning, call Lutheran Hillside Village at 309-689-9605.
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