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Computer Games Stretch and Hone Older Brains

July 17, 2009

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The Brain Emporium offers Cleveland elders an opportunity to refute the adage "You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

The Emporium, Northeast Ohio's first computerized brain fitness center, is a mind gymnasium where local elders can pump up their mental strength and increase their flexibility.

Founder and director T.J. McCallum, an associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, envisioned such an exercise center three years ago. With funding from the university, doors opened this spring.

Located in the city's Fairhill Partners complex, the facility gives older adults the opportunity to work with cutting-edge brain-training programs and games at little to no cost.

Judson Retirement Community resident Josephine Rich, 89, has found her participation in The Brain Emporium both enjoyable and helpful: "This is great because I feel that I am benefiting from all of this fun," she said. "I enjoy the challenge. I really think my recall is better. I find that I don't have to refer to my lists as often."

The Brain Emporium's computerized programs are designed to engage and stimulate different areas of cognition, including memory, visual-spatial abilities, mental flexibility, processing speed, language and planning.

Another regular Brain Emporium attendee, Mickey Lewin, 71, believes the games have helped improve her memory. "People can tell me numbers and I don't have to have them repeat them," she observed. "I don't reverse numbers like I used to. I remember more things now."

Visitors to The Brain Emporium work with McCallum and his graduate student assistants, who design training regimens tailored to an individual's interests and abilities.

Case Western Reserve University Associate Professor of Psychology T.J. McCallum "If "If you don't use your body, it atrophies and the same is true for the brain," saysBrain Emporium founder and Case Western Associate Professor T.J. McCallum.Credit:Case Western Reserve University
In addition to offering a diverse array of brain-fitness computer programs, the Brain Emporium encourages older adults to engage in physical movement, thereby building coordination and agility, while playing virtual tennis, bowling, or darts on a Nintendo Wii. Students from the Intergenerational School, at Fairhill, can earn privileges to volunteer at the Brain Emporium and instruct the older adults on the Wii.

The Brain Emporium is open to the public for three hours each Tuesday and Thursday; however, hours may increase to meet growing demand. McCallum is also currently creating an undergraduate class that incorporates brain fitness programs and educational information designed to help older adults maintain a healthy brain.

The Brain Emporium programs aren't yet proven to slow diseases such as Alzheimer's, but do engage elders and sharpen their minds, McCallum said. "If you don't use your body, it atrophies and the same is true for the brain."




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