Israeli CD-Rom exercises mind, promotes alertness

jerusalem | A CD-ROM can help the aged feel better about their brains.

The human brain doesn’t look like a muscle, but it should be exercised like one. This advice is just as relevant as one ages, and the accelerated death of neurons leaves the brain with less to work with. Reading, thinking, playing a musical instrument, using a computer and pursuing other mental activity can even help people in various stages of dementia.

So says Professor Arnold Rosin, retired director of Melabev (Community Clubs for Eldercare), established in Jerusalem in 1980 by social worker Leah Abramowitz.

“Dementia has always been with us, but with so many more people living beyond their 80s, there is more Alzheimer’s as well as other dementias,” he says. Years ago, “senility” was often used as an insulting, derogatory term for dementia, which is a physical illness.

“I never use that word. Dementia is a disease of old age, like any other. Today, the health authorities are much more sensitive and aware of it as a public health problem.”

Fully a quarter of those over 85 are victims of Alzheimer’s, and the percentage of the elderly and the “old-old” is increasing. The ravages of cognitive disorders include a precipitous decline in memory skills, leading to confusion and disorientation. Although they may live at home, surrounded by loved ones, isolation often results. As they shut themselves off from the community, they become more of a burden to their families.

Rosin says there is some evidence that people with more education seem to have a lower risk, but this is only a statistic; it’s not relevant to individual cases.

Melabev was one of the first Israeli centers devoted to treating people with mental deterioration. But the idea of centers for the physically or mentally disabled quickly began to take root. ESHEL (the Association for Planning and Development of Services for the Elderly in Israel), says Rosin, gave it a major push. “Now there are about 200 such centers around the country.”

Now Melabev is marketing a CD-ROM developed especially to exercise the brains of people suffering from memory disorders. The CD, called Savyon, works in Hebrew and English, and limbers up the user’s cognitive abilities — providing exercises in math, geometric puzzles, vocabulary and recall. Users can set the level of difficulty and the amount of time between questions. Specific musical notes can be selected to tell them when they answer a question correctly or make an error.

Rosin, who continues to run an assessment clinic, says there is anecdotal but no hard evidence from controlled, randomized clinical trials that such mental exercise can slow dementia.

“But it clearly keeps people more alert.”

When Melabev noticed that the computer session was so popular that day-center participants asked if they could use it at home, the nonprofit organization decided to put in on the market.

“The disk made a big impression at the recent national gerontological conference in Tel Aviv. We have received orders even from abroad. We’ve translated it into Russian, and hope it will eventually be available in Arabic, Amharic, French and Spanish.”

More information on Savyon can be obtained by writing to Melabev at POB 3235, Jerusalem 91031, or e-mailing [email protected].