UCLA sophomore Eddie Nash stared at his audience and then read the follow-up question on a large digital screen.
“What festival in the United States hosted more than 350,000 music fans in 1969?” he asks.
Eight attentive students in their 60s and older studied the question and devoted themselves to searching for the answer as if rummaging through the closet for a lost hat.
“Oh come on, this is so easy. It’s right on the tip of my tongue,” one woman said.
A range of cognitive abilities, from mild impairment to normal acuity, were among the eight older adults who signed up for this Saturday afternoon session of the program. UCLA Brain Exercise Initiative. But the answer has proven elusive, despite that famous concert being the soundtrack to this very generation.
Nash, part of a group of students who visited senior living centers near campus to check on elders, helped.
“The first letter is W,” he said.
“We all know what it is. We couldn’t have imagined it,” said a woman named Nina, perfectly describing the frustration that has tormented many people for thousands of years.
And then suddenly, as if a ray of sunshine broke through the clouds, she received it.
“Woodstock,” Nina announced. While most of the participants breathed a sigh of relief, one woman, unable to utter a word over the barrier at the tip of her tongue, acknowledged her distress, saying: “It’s embarrassing. “
But as Nash—a tall, soft-spoken young man—continues to speak softly and encouragingly, there is no way to skip this class, in which everyone gets an A for participation and effort.
I met Nash at the LA Times Book Festival, where he worked as an author escort, and told me about his volunteer work with the Brain Exercise Initiative. . It’s an example of what policymakers are talking about when they talk about the value of intergenerational relationships, where learning and socializing can be a two-way experience. and collaboration is key to solving many of the societal challenges associated with aging.
Another good example, in the San Fernando Valley, is One generation, in which an adult day care center partners with a preschool. In the middle of the city, Heart of Los Angeles has an orchestra consisting of children and retirees.
Nash, who wants to be a doctor and specializes in gerontology, told me that when he was in high school in Thousand Oaks, he worried about his grandmother and other elderly people who were avoiding medical conditions. grocery store during the pandemic. He helped form a local chapter of a national group called Zoomers to Boomers, recruiting classmates to pick up and deliver groceries.
“We connected 200 older adults with high school students,” said Nash, who joined the nonprofit Brain Exercise Initiative as part of a service training request at UCLA.
Esin Gumustekin, a sophomore medical student at UCLA, started the initiative in 2019 as an undergraduate. Her grandmother has Alzheimer’s, she said, “and I’ve been very close to her and have seen firsthand how terrible the disease is and how people lose their identity and sense of self.” about its purpose.”
There are currently 80 branches at universities in the U.S. and Canada, Gumustekin said, and the UCLA team has about four dozen student volunteers who work several times a week with residents of neighboring retirement homes. Currently, there are more students than there is need, which could be an issue related to the pandemic.
The session I attended was led by Nash and Nhi Pham, UCLA pre-med students who worked in a long-term care facility the summer before their senior year and were considering geriatric medicine. department. She and Nash guided eight of their students through a series of questions about common interests, puzzle solving, and basic math problems.
What is the quality of an object that allows it to float on water? Name a mammal that cannot jump. What was Elvis Presley’s first big hit? Name some items in 12s. What is 54 minus 7 and 27 divided by 9?
Some have quick answers; others struggle. Nash and Pham offer clues, encouragement and congratulations, patiently waiting for each of the eight to come up with the right answer.
Questions vary at each session, with packages developed by Gumustekin and other students based on research by the Japanese neuroscientist Kawasami Ryuta. The goal is to improve cognitive function, and the Brain Exercise Initiative website states: “We believe that through simple brain exercises … we can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”
It is not a common belief among neuroscientists and geriatricians that I spoke of the value of word games, crossword puzzles and cognitive exercises. They tout the many benefits of social interaction and brain activity, but they suggest the cognitive improvement may be limited to the current task.
Dr. New Zaldya Cedars-Sinai Alzheimer’s specialist and director of the Memory and Aging Program.
But getting involved, socializing, and facing fear can improve mood and make people feel more confident and happier, Zaldy says, all of which are beneficial.
“I think it was worth it,” said Patty Hooper, who answered quite a few questions at the session I attended. She says she has occasional ‘headaches’ but has no specific memory problems and she thinks the Brain Exercise Initiative helps her make a much better use of her time. than watching TV.
“I came because it was interesting,” Larry Abe told me, who told me he had no memory problems.
Nina, who received Woodstock’s reply, didn’t want to share her last name but said she increasingly struggles with slurred speech.
Nina said she is always careful to put her belongings in the same place to make it easier to track. But she believes the brain exercises she started in March have helped.
“I know that my memory is better,” Nina said.
Gumustekin said she believes brain function is improving based on her own experiences and testimonials from others. But for her, the benefits of socialization are equally important. She has seen older adults become more engaged and eager to participate, which makes it easier to build relationships.
“It’s a two-way street,” she says, and she values friendships built over generations. “We consider them our grandparents, and we look forward to going there and volunteering.”
Gumustekin said she became particularly close to a retired gynecologist who attended treatment sessions.
“She was really a mentor to me as I was going through the more demanding requirements of medical school,” says Gumustekin. “She would always ask, ‘How are your classes? How’s organic chemistry?’”
Nash works as an undergraduate research assistant at UCLA’s Drug discovery lab, are searching for cures for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Alzheimer’s disease is a complex disease and it can take years before suffering and death is alleviated, he said, but it offers young people an opportunity and an obligation.
“There are so many things we can do,” Nash said. “We just have to play our part.”