New Program Helps Alzheimer’s Patients Improve Memory

By Terri Cunliffe — January 12, 2016

What a better way to start 2016 than with a story of hope.

Mae is a resident living with the effects of moderate stage Alzheimer’s at one of our Covenant Retirement Communities. She lives in her own world, rarely communicating with others. But we’ve seen changes in Mae since she started participating in SAIDO Learning™, a drug-free method used to help improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases.

Saido Learning involves working at simple tasks.

Saido Learning involves working at simple tasks.

SAIDO Learning is new to Covenant Retirement Communities and while it is not a cure, it allows us for the first time to do more than just care for residents living with dementia; it allows us to improve the symptoms of the disease without the use of drugs and set goals for improvement. This is the first program that directly benefits the person and not just the staff or the environment in which they live.

Mae’s improvements speak for themselves. She has become more attentive and now forms simple three-word sentences. More importantly, Mae is making connections with people and activities in the world around her, not just in her own closed world.

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia together are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 5.5 million older adults diagnosed have been diagnosed. SAIDO Learning is relatively new to the United States but it has been practiced in Japan over the past 14 years and in 1,700 nursing centers.

The empirical results are impressive. Those participating in SAIDO Learning are more engaged in activities; they socialize more with family members and caregivers; and they are generally more optimistic.

How does SAIDO work?
Walk into a SAIDO room at any of our communities and you’ll find one or two participants, called ‘learners’ at a table working with one ‘supporter,’ who is a SAIDO trained CRC staff or family member. One supporter engages up to two learners at a time in 30-minute exercises in simple math, reading aloud, writing and directed dialogue five days a week.

Simple is the key word here. People are surprised to learn that it’s the simple exercises, as opposed to completing a challenging New York Times crossword puzzle, that stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is where dysfunction occurs with most people who have dementia.

The object is for learners to master basic material and then move on to new material at their own level and pace. This leads to increased confidence and renewed interest in trying new things.

Seeing Success in the Data
Our Covenant Shores, Mercer Island, Wash., community served as CRC’s SAIDO pilot program in 2014. Twenty of Covenant Shores’ Health Center and Reflections Memory Support residents participated in the program and experienced substantial improvement. The community determined that residents who participated in SAIDO Learning for one year had improved their MMSE (mini-mental state examination) score by an average of 4.4 percent.

While 4.4 percent might not seem like a huge increase to the average person, national studies indicate persons with dementia who do not participate in therapeutic programs experience an average annual decrease of 33 percent in their MMSE scores. The difference in scores represents a significant improvement in the quality of life for our residents.

Seeing Success in the Stories
Some of our communities are only six months into the program and don’t yet have the empirical evidence to support the program’s effectiveness, but the stories we hear from the field tell us SAIDO is working.

One participant’s wife commented her husband is less forgetful since he began

participating in SAIDO. She doesn’t need to remind him to close the door or put on his seatbelt.

During a shopping trip, the daughter of a participant said her mom was able to put together short, but meaningful sentences, and recognized where they had parked her car.

Participants are smiling and coming out of their rooms more often; you see a light in their eyes that wasn’t there before.

Subtle, yet important changes that help improve the quality of life for participants and their families.

So while there is no cure for the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., at CRC we’re identifying ways to make life better for residents living with dementia. As the program continues throughout our communities, we’re eager to hear more stories of hope from staff and families.

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About the Author

Terri Cunliffe is president and CEO of Covenant Retirement Communities, the nation’s fifth largest not-for-profit senior services provider. It is a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church, and serves more than 5,000 seniors in 15 continuing care retirement communities in 10 states. Visit Covenant Retirement Communities to learn more. Cunliffe writes monthly on seniors and health for the Covenant Companion online.

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6 Comments

    1. Carol, we would love to give you more information. Call me at 773.878.2294 so we can schedule a call.

  1. Love this! Is this something I could become credentialed in and/or our volunteers could? As a volunteer manager working with this population, I am a firm believer that presence and engagement make a difference. SAIDO seems like tremendous tool. Kudos to CRC for embracing this program.

    1. Debbie, yes you can be trained to be a SAIDO supporter. Call me at the CRC office 773.878.2294 and we’ll give you more information.

  2. Great article Terri! As one who is privileged to be a Supporter I can vouch for the positive results we are seeing at Covenant Village of Northbrook. I would add that the affirmation and immediate positive reinforcement, which is a large part of the program, is vital to our residents. We can be proud of our Covenant Retirement Communities for embracing this program that is making such a difference in seniors’ lives.

    1. Thanks Betty. It’s an amazing program that changes resident lives! Thank you for being part of making our residents lives better!

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