Children, Diplomas and Brains Key to 2006 Mindalert Awards

Aging Today, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview
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Children, Diplomas and Brains Key to 2006 Mindalert Awards


A long-term care facility placing babes in elders' arms, a pioneering campus program for older learners and a national campaign to bring the knowledge of Nobel Laureates and other scientists to bear on issues of brain health are the winners of the 2006 MindAlert Awards, presented by the American Society on Aging (ASA) and MetLife Foundation at the Joint Conference of the National Council on Aging and ASA in Anaheim in March.

The MindAlert program recognizes replicable research-based programs, products or tools that promote cognitive fitness in later life in three categories. Following are the 2006 winners.

INTERGENERATIONAL SPECS AT MACKLIN

Visitors to the Marilyn and Gordon Macklin Intergenerational Institute in Findlay, Ohio, don't find the usual longterm care facility, hushed and monochromatic, with blank-faced residents numbed with boredom and loneliness and suffocated by the routine of day-to-day life that someone else has constructed for them. At Macklin, people see faces from six weeks to 100-plus years old. Frail elders share loving care by feeding and rocking babies, or perhaps sharing their walkers with toddlers. Still other residents might compete with preschoolers in a race between wheelchairs and Big Wheel cycles.

"What appears to be play is, in reality, nourishment for the mind, body and soul," stated Macklin executive director Vicki Rosebrook. Underneath the obvious fun component, she explains, the institute's older adults tune up their mental fitness by experiencing the vitality and energy of the youngsters-and once again feeling needed, useful and connected, she said.

Macklin serves about 200 older adults under one roof through Birchaven Retirement Village, Blanchard Valley Health Association, Julien Faisant Adult Day Services, a hospice program and Marilyn's Lifelong Education Center-a childcare center licensed to care for 72 children from six weeks to five years old. The childcare center is located along Birchaven's indoor "Main Street," which also connects each area of the extended-care center, from independent-living units to the hospice.

The institute won the 2006 MindAlert Award for programs designed to enhance mental fitness for adults with cognitive impairment. The organization was recognized for its SPECS program. "Instead of focusing on the physical maintenance of individuals," Rosebrook explained, "the SPECS approach concentrates on the continued, interrelated growth of all the developmental domains-social, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual," she said.

Rosebrook recalled her moving experience with a former resident of the Birchaven Retirement Village, John Luther, who had been a Macklin Institute board member and treasurer. On a visit to see him shortly before he died, Luther told Rosebrook, "You cannot believe the difference those kids make when you're lying in a hospice unit knowing your days are numbered." He spoke of their smiles, songs and gentle touches, commenting, "They don't judge me because I'm sick; they act like it's no big deal to be with a sick old man." Having witnessed the program both as a supporter and a resident, he stated, "I can testify that it truly makes a difference. You need to keep this program going and let as many people as possible benefit from it."

She noted that research at the institute showed "the child's need to interact diminishes the senior adult's loneliness; the child's need for guidance alleviates the elder's helplessness; and the child's need to explore can virtually eliminate the older person's boredom." A recent Macklin study funded by the Association for Childhood Education International indicated that children who regularly interact with older people have enhanced personal and social skills. Also, the institute recently initiated a collaborative agreement with the University of Findlay to study how contact between children and elders benefits the social, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual skills of older individuals.

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