Residents of Jenner's Pond in West Grove, Pennsylvania, discuss hearing health in small groups in a workshop led by UD's Delaware Center for Cognitive Aging Research and the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic
Kimberly Van Buren, a speech-language pathologist in UD’s Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, facilitates a discussion on healthy hearing in small groups at Jenner’s Pond in West Grove, Pennsylvania.

Promoting Brain Health

September 25, 2023 Written by Amy Cherry | Ashley Barnas

Delaware Center for Cognitive Aging Research brings brain wellness workshop to the community

Rita Willis remembers taking a cognitive screening test a few years ago, where a clinician asked her to remember five words. She recalled three of the five words and was told: “That’s a tad low for your age.” 

It surprised her. As the daughter and caretaker for her mother, who died of Alzheimer’s at 97, the 86-year-old Willis wanted to do everything within her power to change her trajectory. 

“I remember what it’s like to care for someone with Alzheimer’s, and I’d like to spare my children from that,” Willis said. 

She signed up for the University of Delaware’s Delaware Center for Cognitive Aging (DECCAR) Brain Wellness Information, Support, and Empowerment (Brain-WISE) workshop, which aims to educate older adults about modifiable risk factors for dementia and empower them to take the first steps toward making health behavior changes. The pilot program, made possible through generous support from the Howard W. Swank, Alma K. Swank, and Richard Kemper Swank Foundation, launched this summer at Jenner’s Pond, a retirement community in West Grove, Pennsylvania, where Willis lives.  

The program was born from Memory Ambassadors, a UD collaboration with ChristianaCare, which saw 800+ older adults over six years and successfully increased visits to primary care doctors. But Matthew Cohen, associate director of DECCAR, saw a need to develop the program further.

“Sustained lifestyle and behavior changes are needed to reduce the risk of dementia,” Cohen said. “Everyone knows they’re supposed to eat right and exercise, but this in-depth education series focuses on what specifically is needed to promote good brain health and reduce dementia risk. It also includes personalized feedback and counseling about risk and protective factors.”

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