May 20, 2009
Ed Drantch

“I need that friend to say, come on Jill, let’s do it!”

It’s a tag-team effort….just you and a coach. They guide you along the way, there for motivational support. Building mass for your muscle, and making it stronger and work harder.

“I’ve never heard of the program before…I’m hoping it’ll help things,” said Richard Hamrick.

But it’s not physical fitness, rather brain fitness! It’s an eight week program for mental health. All it requires is one hour each day…listening to certain sounds, telling the computer what you hear.

For residents, like Richard Hamrick, who live at the Baldwin Park retirement center in Staunton, this program is a welcome addition to their lives.

“I’ve lost my quickness of thought, used to be I could remember anything instantly. That goes by me, I can’t remember many things 5 minutes later now,” said Hamrick.

Mr. Hamerick is an 83-year-old retiree, who calls Baldwin Park “home.” With some minor hearing loss, he’s going through this eight-week activity with a few friends and his wife of 60 years.

Mrs. Hamerick is camera shy, but her husband says she’s trying her best.

“Mostly, she’s having trouble with the sounds right now…I didn’t think she would because she was a music major, but i think she’ll get better at that,” Hamrick says.

That’s the positive attitude residents need throughout this 40 day program, especially at the Baldwin Park retirement center. Residents like Ann and Emma weren’t familiar with a mouse or keyboard before walking into the”brain fitness room.” In fact, they didn’t even know the old time card game, Solitaire, existed in virtual reality!

But with a few clicks of a mouse, listening and repeating, coaches say they “get a kick” out of seeing their residents progressing.

Coach Donna Dolye says, “it was a sense of pride that she learned something and I really enjoy that.”

Don Yalenty from Posit-Science says the program is meant to sharpen cognitive ability. In other words, hearing things, storing it in your memory, and being able to repeat it later.

“The bottom line is as we age, brain cells die. The brain is like a car, it can be fine-tuned based on what it’s exposed to,” says Yalenty.

Executive Director Jill Sproul says, “we are constantly looking for a way to help improve lives of our residents. We have a great fitness program but we thought we were missing an opportunity for brain fitness.”

After the program is completed, participants say they hope it works. For now, Richard Hamrick says, “I’m here, I’m eating, I’m sleeping, I’m happy, that’s what counts.”

Baldwin Park is one of three retirement centers in the state to offer this brain fitness program to its residents.

They say it’s been a success in their other facilities and hope they get the same results here.