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Neighbors of Kane County

The Holmstad celebrates a year of successes

Nov 10, 2016 09:41AM ● By Neighbors Magazines

From outside the doorway, one can hear the sounds of learning. Number counting, reading passages aloud, quiet periods of focus followed by bits of laughter, and high-fives for jobs well done. Sometimes, there’s soft sighs, for working the brain is hard work at any age, especially for older adults who are living with Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

These “Learners” are older adults living at assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care at The Holmstad, a faith-based, not-for-profit continuing care retirement community operated by Covenant Retirement Communities (CRC). They participate in SAIDO Learning, an innovative, drug-free method proven to help improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. The program is offered at all 12 continuing care retirement communities operated by CRC, including sister Chicagoland communities Windsor Park, Carol Stream, and Covenant Village of Northbrook, Northbrook.

The Holmstad recently celebrated its one-year anniversary of offering SAIDO Learning as part of its LifeConnect® Wellness Partnership with residents. The celebration included SAIDO participants, residents, family members and staff, representatives from Kumon Institute of Education in Osaka, Japan, and Eliza Jennings, the two organizations that brought SAIDO Learning to the United States. Participants were recognized for their hard work and successes, and family members observed sample SAIDO sessions.

“We are celebrating a year’s worth of small successes that have brought joy and hope to our residents and their family members,” said Amanda Gosnell, executive director at The Holmstad. “We can’t provide a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, but we can provide an option to help make life better. Maybe today they’ll smile more, connect with a family member, or enjoy eating breakfast with their neighbor. It’s the small things, but it’s the small things in life that matter.”

How SAIDO works

Participants in the SAIDO program are called “Learners” and the caregivers are called “Supporters.” One supporter engages two learners at a time in 30-minute exercises in simple math, reading aloud, purposeful conversation and directed dialogue five days a week. The exercises are designed to stimulate the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for cognitive function, social behavior and expression and decision making. The object is for learners to master basic material and then move on to new material at their own level and pace, thus leading to increased confidence and renewed interest in trying new things.

“With SAIDO, we’re going beyond the traditional method of caring for residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Jillian Thomas, director of Assisted Living Operations and the SAIDO Learning Program for CRC. “We’re improving their quality of life by treating the symptoms of the disease.”

Practiced in Japan over the past 14 years and in 1,700 nursing centers, SAIDO Learning has yielded impressive empirical results. In communities where the program is practiced, participating residents are more engaged with daily activities; they are more socially engaged with caregivers, family members and friends; and they are more optimistic.

Ryan Hust, associate executive director and lead SAIDO supporter at The Holmstad, described a memory care resident who was socially isolated, preferring to stay in his room and not participate in activities. Shortly after participating in SAIDO, Hust explained, he began leaving his apartment more often and engaging with others. “He began showing that he wanted to be part of the social life around him. He would have never come out of his apartment before,” he said, adding, “No matter where a person is in their season of life, they deserve to feel joy. Their family members deserve to see them happy.”

In addition to noting observations, communities record and track the progress of its participants by utilizing two standard cognitive tests – Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) and Frontal Assessment Battery (FAB). During the pilot program at Covenant Shores, Mercer Island, Wash. – a sister CRC community – the community determined that residents who participated in SAIDO Learning for one year had improved their MMSE cognitive score by an average of 4.4 percent. Communities test learners every six months.

Presently, there are 11 participating residents from assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care. Supporters are SAIDO-trained staff members from across all departments within The Holmstad. They include administrators, directors, certified nursing assistants, and life enrichment coordinators; each volunteers to give a portion of their workweek to leading SAIDO sessions.

According to Terri Cunliffe, chief executive officer of CRC, “As a company committed to the well-being of our residents and providing them with the newest health and wellness programming, this is an initiative I was passionate about implementing across all of our CCRC properties. The program aligns with our LifeConnect Wellness Partnership and it provides staff in every department with an opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of our residents.”

The Bottom Line

This year, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the nation $226 billion, and it is estimated that the number of those afflicted with the disease will continue to rise as the size and population of older adults continues to increase.

“Unless there is a cure or medical breakthrough that can prevent this disease, senior living organizations will need to identify options for care and opportunities to help manage the cost of care. Programs like SAIDO may be a genuine option for our industry,” said Cunliffe.

For more information on SAIDO Learning, visit or call (877) 591-0427.