By Anne Ternus-Bellamy

On a rainy Thursday morning, two dozen seniors are gathered in the third-floor activity room at Carlton Plaza of Davis. Sitting at two long tables, they work through a variety of puzzles that challenge their spatial reasoning, attention to detail and language skills.

The language part is key.

“When all else fails, your language is the most important thing,” says Cindi Unger, former memory care director at Carlton Plaza and now sales director and principal Alzheimer’s trainer at Comfort Keepers, an in-home care company serving Yolo and Solano counties. “It’s the way you communicate with others, the way you communicate your needs to others.”

These seniors participating in Brain Boosters come from all walks of life. Some are still sharp as tacks, some may be more forgetful, and several have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. All are looking for ways to maintain their brain health for as long as possible.

Brain Boosters was created by Fairfield resident Kristin Einberger as a way to improve brain health and address early memory loss. The weekly class mixes mental and physical exercises in a social setting.

Unger brought the program to Yolo County in 2014, thanks to a one-year grant from Dignity Healthcare and partnerships with Citizens Who Care, RISE and the Yolo Adult Day Health Center. During the course of the yearlong grant, Unger offered weekly Brain Boosters classes in Esparto and Woodland, as well as at Carlton Plaza in Davis.

This session, which has been underway since October, was funded entirely by Carlton, even though just one resident of the senior living facility is participating — the rest of the nearly 30 participants come from elsewhere in Davis and beyond.

“It’s a community service Carlton is providing,” Unger noted.

None of the participants are charged for the classes.

Unger even convinced her mom to attend this time around. When she’s the first with the correct answer to a quiz question, the woman beside her quips, “You’re the teacher’s mother.”

“But I don’t give her the answers,” Unger protests.

Lots of good-natured laughing ensues.

There is a lot of that at these classes — friendly competition and ribbing as well as conversation, all of which fulfills one of the keys to brain health: socializing.

“The socialization is huge,” Unger has said. “People who are normally home alone are coming here.”

And “it’s a chatty little group,” she said.

In addition to socializing, the other keys to prolonged brain health, Unger said, are nutrition, spirituality, new and complex learning and exercise.

Brain Boosters touches on much of that, particularly the new and complex learning and exercise.

For the exercise portion, Carlton’s Pamela Roy comes in to lead the group through some “chair yoga” before they return to their brain boosters, which include a sequencing challenge and answering some 1960s trivia. The final activity challenges the seniors to name as many phrases, expressions, songs, movies and books as they can with the word “cold.”

Mixed in with the activities are suggestions Unger offers on minimizing the impact of early memory loss and tools that can be used in the future.

The next class, on Thursday, Dec. 10, will feature a resource panel with several experts able to answer questions about everything from assisted-living options to in-home care and more.

The panel presentation is open to the public, not just Brain Boosters participants, and will take place at Carlton Plaza from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.

As class drew to a close last Thursday, participants received their homework assignments: writing down questions for the panel and completing a word search involving state names. At the suggestion of one class member, a third assignment is given: bring two jokes to the next class to share.

“Clean or dirty — I don’t care,” Unger says.

 

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Adair Palm, center; Rita Krich, left; and other seniors work on puzzles at Thursday’s Brain Boosters session at Carlton Plaza of Davis. The puzzles are a way to improve brain health and address early memory loss along with physical exercises in a social setting at the weekly classes. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo
 

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Cindi Unger, principal Alzheimer's trainer for Comfort Keepers, leads a Brain Boosters workshop on Thursday. The classes feature lots of friendly competition and ribbing as well as conversation, all of which fulfills one of the keys to brain health: socialization. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo
 

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Participants in last Thursday's Brain Boosters session exercise their bodies as well as their minds by doing some chair yoga. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo