Building better brains — and better bottom lines

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Richard Sill
Richard Sill

Everyone knows – to paraphrase the United Negro College Fund's longtime slogan – that a senior's mind is a terrible thing to waste away. Yet wellness directors confronted with a decision whether to adopt computerized brain fitness programs designed to combat cognitive decline are faced with two critical questions. First, do these programs work? And second, will they add to the bottom line?

A new study by UCLA researchers answers the first question strongly in the affirmative for Dakim BrainFitness, a touchscreen-based system designed specifically for the senior care market. Published in the July issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, the study involved residents in several retirement communities with a mean participant age of 81.8.  Researchers found that:

  • All participants who completed at least 40 Dakim sessions at either the two- or the six-month evaluation period showed significant improvements in all three cognitive domains examined: immediate memory, delayed memory and language. 
  • Many participants showed improvement after only two months. 
  • Participants who were given the opportunity to play more than 40 sessions did so voluntarily, playing an average of 38 additional sessions between the two- and six-month testing periods.

To my knowledge, this is the first study to show that computerized brain training can improve memory and language – the two areas that are arguably of greatest concern to seniors and their families.

We at Dakim believe these gains are a direct result of three main factors in our system design: cross-training in six cognitive domains; patented technology that adjusts the sequence and difficulty of activities to each user's performance; and the use of videos, music, humor and exercises built around age-appropriate cultural references like Jimmy Stewart and Rosie the Riveter to keep users engaged and — as proven by the study — coming back for more.

The answer to the other question is: Will a brain fitness program investment provide a financial payback? It can, and does, in the right hands.

At Providence Place in Pennsylvania, for example, administrator Rodney Stoops has had an active memory care program anchored by the Dakim system for seven years. The program runs in all four Providence Place facilities, where some residents have three to five computerized brain training sessions per week. 

Stoops says the investment has “dramatically” improved the community's profitability by bringing in new residents and increasing retention rates. It's helped with gaining new residents and physician referrals, he says.

The program is also boosting the community's bottom line by delaying the need to move residents into secure units, and in some cases even enabling residents in secure units to move to a lower level of care. Stoops credits the brain training system's ability to ease agitation, slow the process of cognitive decline, and occasionally identify residents who have been misdiagnosed and improperly placed in locked units — all benefits that he and his staff have seen firsthand.

Providence Place actively markets its memory care program in ads, commercials and on its website, complete with photos of residents using the Dakim touchscreen appliance. The community also employs a dedicated brain fitness coordinator to ensure consistency. 

All of this adds up to an opportunity for long-term care providers – an opportunity to help residents and make money while you're doing it. If brain training technology that costs $35 per resident per year helps you bring in one new resident and your facility charges $4,000 per month, that's a gain of roughly $50,000 a year. It also can make a real difference in your residents' ability to function cognitively, as borne out by the UCLA study.

That is a major benefit from both a humane perspective and a financial one, given that a higher-functioning resident requires less care. These are all important factors to weigh in evaluating an investment in a brain health program.

Richard Sill is the vice president of sales at Dakim, Inc. the creator of the Dakim BrainFitness program used by hundreds of senior living communities throughout the U.S.

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