At the IEA Brain Health Club, Clemson students work with participants in a variety of activities, such as music, art therapy and games.

At the IEA Brain Health Club, Clemson students work with participants in a variety of activities, such as music, art therapy and games.
Image Credit: Institute for Engaged Aging

A Clemson University program that supports individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias (ADRD) has received national recognition for its impact in Pickens County. The Brain Health Club, developed by the Clemson University Institute for Engaged Aging (IEA), recently received an Aging Achievement Award from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), which recognizes contemporary, effective and replicable programs.

The Brain Health Club, established in Central, South Carolina in September 2018 by IEA and the South Carolina Appalachian Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging, provides activities for participants and offers caregivers a much needed afternoon off. The Institute, housed in the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, partnered with the South Carolina Department on Aging, the local Area Agency on Aging, Pickens County Meals on Wheels, the Alzheimer’s Association and the Town of Central to reopen a closed senior center for the program and other senior services.

According to Cheryl Dye, director of the IEA, the Brain Health Club was one of only two caregiving programs recognized nationally by n4a and the only program from the state of South Carolina.

“We are so honored to be recognized for the work our students and community partners have done to help those living with ADRD in our community,” Dye said. “It’s been very rewarding to watch the students interact with the Brain Health Club participants and develop an understanding of their special needs; this knowledge will be especially valuable in their future health care careers. The students have also expressed their gratitude for having the opportunity to help improve the quality of life of participants and their family caregivers.”

Dye said there is a need for more senior care as the aging population grows due to the aging baby boomer generation and the expected rise of ADRD diagnoses. Pickens County is no exception, as there are 2,059 people living with ADRD in the area, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Since opening in September 2018, the Brain Health Club has regularly served eight to nine people each week.

“Most of the individuals with ADRD are cared for by family members,” Dye said. “These family members need a break from their demanding role, and their loved ones need specially designed activities that are cognitively and socially stimulating.”

Research has shown that if caregivers neglect their own care and do nothing to reduce their own stress, their risk of developing various health problems, including dementia, increases. The Brain Health Club gives caregivers and family members a much-needed break or time to interact with people who are also caring for their loved ones with ADRD.

During the Brain Health Club, students in one of Clemson’s Creative Inquiry undergraduate research courses deliver cognitively and socially stimulating activities, such as music, art therapy, games and exercise, to those with early to mid-stage dementia. The students were trained by Clemson public health sciences doctoral student Caitlin Torrence, who also served as the program director in its first year of operation. In the past two years, families have provided Dye with feedback on the importance of this program in giving them a chance to complete chores at home or run errands and do shopping.

“The caregivers also shared with us that their loved ones seem to know when it is the day to go the ‘club,’ and they are eager to go,” Dye said. “They also seem to be happier and exhibit fewer disruptive behaviors after returning home.”

College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences Dean Leslie Hossfeld said this program is an excellent example of the Clemson land-grant mission and the college’s mission of building people and communities.

“This program has become a positive influence in the community and has helped many people living with dementia and related diseases as well as their families,” Hossfeld said. “I’m proud of the work Dr. Dye and her students have done, and this award is well deserved.”

The Brain Health Club operates weekly on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, 1-3:30 p.m. More information can be found here.