Brain boosters

UF and The Village launch program to help older adults improve brain health

By Jill Pease

Vitality MindWhat do meditation, computer training and exercise have in common? All three activities are part of a new research program geared toward improving brain health in older adults.

UF Health Vitality Mind is a partnership between UF and The Village retirement community in Gainesville. The program provides residents of The Village and the community with free cognitive assessments and interventions designed to improve mental functioning, mood and the ability to independently perform everyday tasks in individuals age 60 and older.

Vitality Mind“This program is an optimal partnership between UF and The Village,” said UF Health Vitality Mind program coordinator London Butterfield, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ department of clinical and health psychology. “Vitality Mind is located in an apartment within a bustling retirement community, and we are able to provide on-site assessment and interventions for seniors from which they will hopefully gain direct brain-health benefits. It also gives our students the opportunity to interact with seniors in a natural, real-world setting.”

A number of previous studies have demonstrated that cognitive interventions can have a positive effect on older adults’ cognition, mood and quality of life. A unique feature of Vitality Mind is that UF researchers are now evaluating whether combining these cognitive activities may offer even greater benefits.

Directed by cognitive aging researchers Dawn Bowers, Ph.D., and Michael Marsiske, Ph.D., faculty members in the department of clinical and health psychology, UF Health Vitality Mind offers activities for individuals who have concerns about their memory and thinking abilities, as well as for older adults who simply want to try for a cognitive boost.

Interventions include mindfulness meditation, computer training and physical exercise — all of which have separately been shown to improve older adults’ brain health in prior studies, and which are now being combined, Butterfield said.

Vitality Mind“Research on mindfulness, which trains participants to improve their focused, present-moment attention, has shown that such practice can help reduce anxiety, depression and pain while improving cognitive functions and overall quality of life,” she said. “Several studies have demonstrated that cognitive activity and physical exercise can strengthen the brain and thwart cognitive decline associated with aging.”

Participants with more significant concerns about memory or other cognitive changes may be referred for neuro-psychological assessment and treatment through the UF Health Psychology Clinic.

UF Health Vitality Mind is supported by funding from The Village and the department of clinical and health psychology.

“To add cognitive health services and be able to show older adults that we can help improve their brain health is pretty special,” said Jim Antonucci, executive director of The Village. “This program has the potential to be a blueprint for all senior living communities to replicate and change the way we serve older adults.”

For more information, visit vitalitymind.phhp.ufl.edu.

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