A Memory Program to Consider For Your Loved Ones With Cognitive Decline
BY LYNN SERPER
In 1972, I was a teacher and developed strategies to help learning-disabled children learn. Fascinated with the brain, I entered a doctoral program in education. While completing the last chapter of my doctoral dissertation, I was struck by a ruptured brain aneurysm. Surgery repaired the artery, but I was affected by aphasia with damage to speech, reading, writing and memory. This life-changing event happened in 1990 and my neurological team, considering the brain damage, recommended long-term-care placement.
However, I was fortunate to have true advocates in my life. With their resourcefulness and support, I spent the next five years living at home with the help of a “village” of therapists, family and friends and avoided long-term care. My network of caregivers reached out to me with talent, love, guidance and encouragement — even when I wanted to give up.
After five years of re-learning most of my lost skills, I completed and defended my doctoral studies. During the years of my recovery, I used the materials I developed for learning-disabled children to help me refresh and stimulate my thinking and memories. I surprised myself with steady improvement.
As I improved, families called me about helping a spouse, parent or friend diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, etc. I found that the materials I developed and used for myself could be used in successful and delightful ways, so I named my program The Serper Method. Those who participate find they can express themselves and be respected for their thoughts, ideas and opinions, despite their ability or level of function. I have often heard, “please come back, I want to keep thinking.” It’s special for me and for the people who participate.
What Is The Serper Method and How Does It Work?
- Set in workbook form, The Serper Method is constructed within a flexible formula. Designed to revive old memories, it provides an around-the-table platform for social engagement, cooperative curiosity, a little play, a little laughter and feelings of individual or group success — attending to all levels of function.
The Serper Method Embraces Three Elements: Cognitive Stimulation, Social Engagement and Emotional Reassurance.
1.) Cognitive stimulation is comprised of short inspirational stories, historical and current events, and geography. Not only is the material about familiar events and people, it is also accompanied by related pictures, short film-clips, music and interactive brain exercises. In the process, people who take part are encouraged to offer thoughts, ideas and opinions. Individual interests and cognitive abilities are considered for every activity. When a history exercise referred to WWII, one man described his arrival in Normandy on D-Day, while his wife invented a code so each letter would identify his location. I’m always delighted to interact with individuals’ descriptions of awareness, knowledge and understanding. Memories of today evoke memories of the past and vice versa. And, it’s best when there is someone else to listen and share.
2.) Social engagement has been noted as beneficial for brain and emotional health. It’s about sharing ideas on topics, stories, and memories. Even if people have difficulty speaking, they can in fact participate if they can show facial or hand expressions or can point to a yes-no card. In fact, for many participants who were previously silent or showed little curiosity, engagement with the information, interactions and activities of The Serper Method has assured mental stimulation and social interaction for those who have forgotten how to initiate or participate with others.
3.) Emotional reassurance is significantly positive for older adults’ health, especially for those who are cognitively impaired. Whether a person is living in his or her home or living in an eldercare residence, each person experiencing decline wants to feel accepted, connected and successful. Through The Serper Method, I find that engaging individuals about each one’s interest and each one’s ability can create curiosity and opportunities to use the skills they still have. The Serper Method offers flexibility throughout the program so that people can be recognized and valued as able individuals. Working together, residents and care-people can enjoy acceptance and appreciation for each other and for themselves.
My stroke gave me the gift of knowledge and faith with an understanding that stimulation, encouragement and genuine respect can help people, their families and care-people, through a disease. As long as persons are willing, brain use can nourish and stimulate individuals and their still healthy brain cells. “The Serper Method” and what I learned from my recovery became not only relevant information, but also the interaction and engagement needed to give diagnosed persons, their families and their care-people a way to think together, enjoy each other and feel successful. Here are some of the approaches I developed for presenting new and interesting information.
How to Get Started:
When introducing a new idea or strategy or story, I don’t expect a response right away. I find that people who are new to the program benefit from a model of interaction. For example, when asking a question and not receiving a response, I express my own thought and then ask for a “yes” or “no” agreement or disagreement. If there is no reply, I offer an option like “the thought might be in your head, so if it pops up please let me know,” and then move on. People learn from a model of hearing a question or an idea and sharing a response. There is no right or wrong. This is a process of interaction.
1.) I became aware that many participants know how to read if the print size is large enough. (If a person cannot read, you or someone else can read the passage.) When the passage relates to personal experiences, and the individual and care-person read a paragraph where the text describes the brain as “always changing” and “always learning,” then individuals and care-people realize something they had never thought about before. The Serper Method is collaborative and informative when people are reading and thinking together. When conversation follows, I use a group of questions or replies that replace the word “no” and keep a conversation going, with dignity. Questions like: “What do you think?” “I’m not sure.” “I like the way you think.” “I’m not sure I would have thought of it that way.”
2.) The Serper Method is built on the strengths of the participant. Examples are spelling, math, music or any sequential task that was learned in a person’s past. For instance, “Serper” exercises have a fill-in for name and date at the top of a page. Once a person identifies his or her name, it’s a fun mind puzzle to ask about the month, such as, “This is the fifth month of the year starting with January.” Or, for naming the year, “If last year was 2016, what do you think this year might be?” (I give the day since sometimes I even have to look it up on my smart phone!)
3.) History helps to connect the past to the present. A list of five events, and a choice of five dates — all occurring far from each other — are included for logic, reasoning and figuring-it-out. If the number of five events and five dates is confusing, reduce the number to two events and two dates. Old memories can lead to conversation, ideas, opinions, and more socialization.
From my personal life and from my professional opportunities working with others (20 years), I am convinced of the value and efficacy that cognitive and social experiences bring to persons who are undergoing cognitive loss. The Serper Method — as a flexible-structured program — gives voice, recognition and curiosity to all participants. My goal is to empower others to make progress as I — and many others with cognitive challenges — have done.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lynn Lazarus Serper, EdD, is the creator of the Serper Method™ and Founder and President of Brain Enhancement Services, Inc. (BES). In 1990, Dr. Serper became disabled by a ruptured brain aneurysm and lost her ability to speak, read, write, and think clearly. Doctors recommended that her family place her into a long-term care facility. Instead, thanks to the intervention of a friend and advocate, Dr. Serper began a six-year program of rehabilitation at residential facilities and at home. With the help of many professionals and a strong determination, she slowly regained her cognitive abilities, and in the process, developed the techniques that became the foundation of the Serper Method™. Prior to her illness, Dr. Serper completed doctoral course work in Cognitive Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Four years after suffering the ruptured aneurysm, she successfully completed her dissertation and received her doctoral degree. Dr. Serper founded Brain Enhancement Services, Inc., in 1999. In 2002, she was awarded a grant from the Hass Memorial Trust Fund to investigate cognitive intervention using the Serper Method™ as a Brain Enhancement Strengthening Treatment (BEST), in affiliation with the Boston University School of Medicine. For further details on this study and other research studies, see Research.
Dr. Serper was a member of the international faculty at the 2005 Boston Alzheimer’s Symposium on Wellness for People with Dementia, and has spoken internationally on the subjects of cognitive education and memory disorders at programs sponsored by:
- National Alzheimer’s Association and regional chapters
- Alzheimer’s Association of Europe
- American Heart Association
- American Society on Aging / National Council on Aging
- Council for Jewish Elderly, Chicago
- Gerontological Society of America
- International Conference of Alzheimer’s Disease International
- Massachusetts Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center
- Massachusetts Assisted Living Facilities Association (Mass ALFA)
- Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission
- Meharry Medical School Consortium
- U.S. Department of Education Rehabilitation Services Administration
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