Workshop series for those on lifelong quest for strong brains

Aging Matters

What is the best activity to build and maintain a strong and healthy brain? It would be great if there was one simple answer. But the answer, though not simple, is much more exciting: There are many activities that research has shown to correlate with lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Regular participation in these activities not only adds spice to life and may even lead to new friendships and experiences.

In the past year, Christine Spencer, aka “Spence,” Maui’s regional coordinator with the Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter, has worked with incredible community volunteers on a successful Walk to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser. These funds have allowed her to expand the association’s outreach and awareness efforts to incorporate more programming, including telehealth, support groups, and classes on Molokai and Lanai.

Much of this work focuses on families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease. But she also raises awareness of research-based strategies that adults of all ages can adopt to strengthen the brain and decrease the risk of developing cognitive impairment. And again, thanks to fundraising and partnerships, she is expanding her outreach around prevention and risk reduction with two series beginning this month.

The first is as a guest speaker at Maui Adult Day Care Center’s quarterly caregiver trainings. These workshops focus on the brain health needs of caregivers of older family members. The Lahaina workshop just took place this past week, and over the next two months she will conduct the same workshop in Hana, Kahului, Kihei, Kaunakakai and Lanai City. To learn more about these workshops, contact Maui Adult Day Care Center or Spencer.

The second series is geared to all adults and is held on the last Thursday of each month from January to June. It takes place at UH-Maui College during lunchtime to accommodate both employed and retired community residents and is offered as a joint project of the Alzheimer’s Association and UH-Manoa’s Cooperative Extension. While these two organizations have worked together on programs like this in the past, the 2020 Brain Health series is incorporating the expansion theme to allow virtual participation by residents on Molokai and Lanai and in Hana. Just call in advance to make arrangements to join classes online.

Get out your calendar and enter the following dates and topics:

• Jan. 30, 10 Ways to Love Your Brain. This game-show style workshop will highlight the top 10 strategies for protecting the brain and building cognitive reserve.

• Feb. 27, Connecting Your Heart With Your Brain. A medical professional will identify common health markers that are linked with both heart and brain health. With this information, you can make informed decisions that benefit both of these organs.

• March 26, Your Brain on Meditation. Unhealthy stress has been shown to negatively impact cognitive function. While it’s impossible to eliminate stress, research has demonstrated that managing stress is brain protective. A variety of speakers will discuss different types of stress management including meditation, massage and pressure points.

• April 30, Break a Sweat. Brains require oxygen and exercise increases the circulation of oxygen rich blood to it. But exercise that strengthens the cardiovascular system isn’t the only type that is linked with decreased risk of cognitive deficits. Wear comfortable clothes and shoes to learn and practice all four types of exercise linked with brain health.

• May 28, Challenge Your Brain. While crosswords are fun, the brain needs a variety of activities that are novel and challenging. Learn how to turn your regular activities into those that push and expand your brain’s abilities. Speakers will focus on 15 specific activities that are fun, challenging, and related to positive cognitive function.

• June 25, The Power of Learning. As the number of years of formal education increase, the risk of dementia decreases. Learn how to make lifelong learning opportunities, such as these lunchtime workshops, look more like formal education and boost the impact of learning without the need to return to school.

Pack your lunch and join UH Extension and the Alzheimer’s Association in kicking off the 2020 Brain Health Series from noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 30 in the Community Services Building on UH-Maui College. Like all Alzheimer’s Association programs, this workshop series is free, but preregistration is preferred so there are plenty of materials for all participants.

To register, call the Alzheimer’s Association at 591-2771, ext. 8235, or email Spencer at cespencer@alz.org. And for those far from Kahului, call to learn how you can participate virtually. We look forward to seeing you soon!

• Heather Greenwood-Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Aging and Intergenerational Programs. Today’s column was written jointly with Christine Spencer, Maui regional coordinator with Alzheimer’s Association Aloha Chapter. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Saturday of each month.