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Aging adults thrive with SAIDO Learning offered by Eliza Jennings

Donna Tresko Frier with her father, Charles Winter. (Photo by Caroline R. Merk)

Donna Tresko Frier with her father, Charles Winter. (Photo by Caroline R. Merk)


Charles “Chuck” Winter is a widower residing at Devon Oaks, Eliza Jennings’ assisted living facility in Westlake. He’s a tall, handsome gentleman who looks a decade younger than his 87 years. He was a longtime high school teacher. Earlier this year, he had total dementia. Now he is social, involved and responsive. His daughter, Donna Tresko Frier, a former special education teacher, credits getting her father back to SAIDO Learning. Saido is a non-pharmacological treatment that has been shown to reverse or reduce the symptoms of memory loss in older adults with cognitive impairment.

SAIDO Learning has been practiced in Japan for 11 years. It was developed by the Kumon Institute of Education of Osaka, Japan, in conjunction with Professor Ryuta Kawashima of the Smart Aging International Research Center at Tohoku University in Sendai.

Brain MRIs have revealed that there is more activation of the prefrontal cortex of the brain with simple problems rather than with complex ones. Saido Learning utilizes cognition-based activities, engaging the individual in simple yet specific therapy that stimulates the prefrontal cortex.

The Japanese were seeking a partner for a research study — their first trial outside of Japan. The late former CEO of Eliza Jennings, Deborah Lewis Hiller, thought it would be a good fit and saw its potential. “The results of the study were so successful,” said Linda Hart, Eliza Jennings’ director of public relations, “that we decided to implement the program in 2012.” All the participants in the Eliza Jennings trial experienced some degree of improvement in at least one of the two standardized tests for cognitive ability, the FAB and the MMSE.

Cognitive assessment tests are done to determine the level of cognitive impairment. In Saido Learning sessions, the older adult participants are referred to as, “Learners.” The staff or family members who are trained in SAIDO Learning are the “Supporters.” Generally there are two Learners with one Supporter in a session. It was found that with two participants there is a likelihood of stimulated competition as well as mutual encouragement.

Mr. Winter breezed through several sheets of simple math problems that are timed in order to gauge improvement. The key is that he had to read them out loud, so he would periodically catch himself writing an incorrect answer. Afterward, the Supporter, John Rodemann, looked over his finished worksheets, praised the correct answers and pointed out others, suggesting that Mr. Winter take another look. “At the beginning my father couldn’t even recognize the numbers,” says Donna. “Now he gets them all right.” The next task was reading a simple text out loud, followed by oral questions about its contents. The final element of the session was matching numbered game pieces with corresponding numbers on a board.

Donna said that her father played tennis up until four years ago. His legs were getting weaker, requiring knee surgery. After the procedure, “he didn’t even know who I was.” As it turns out, he had drug-induced dementia from heavy doses of oxycodone. He came out of it once the drugs were discontinued. Last November Mr. Winter underwent a spinal stenosis to help him walk. “All of a sudden, he went into total dementia,” said Donna. The doctors attributed it to either the anesthesia or a stroke. “He couldn’t watch TV or read,” she said. “He just stared straight ahead.” She signed him up for SAIDO Learning. “After about two months, suddenly, a light bulb came back on.” The neurologist was amazed, never expecting her father to come back to such a high level of cognition, said Donna. Since then, Mr. Winter has resumed physical therapy and is walking again. He is reading his beloved TIME magazine, earmarking articles for Donna to read, advocating for other residents, and he is planning to start a choir at Devon Oaks.

The goal of SAIDO Learning is to reverse or slow the progress of dementia, and thus to improve the quality of life for older adults. It has been determined to be most effective when performed five times a week for approximately 30 minutes. For optimum results and sustained improvement, SAIDO Learning must be consistently practiced. Once an individual discontinues participation, symptoms are likely to return as the disease resumes its progression without intervention.

Eliza Jennings is the first aging services organization in the United States to offer SAIDO Learning. “Our entire staff is trained in SAIDO Learning in order to provide continuous support and positive reinforcement to our residents,” said Linda Hart. She said that Eliza Jennings is now sub-licensing SAIDO Learning to other aging services organizations in the United States. The Lakewood-based nonprofit manages three properties that include independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, rehabilitation and respite care. They have a retirement campus in Olmsted Township and the Eliza Jennings Health Campus in Cleveland.

For more information, call 216.325.1266.

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