The Brain Fitness program offers keys to dementia prevention

SIOUX CITY – Did you know you can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 70% just by making some simple lifestyle changes?

The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA is currently in the midst of offering a second 10-week session of Unlocking Brain Fitness: Keys to Dementia Prevention (KEYS). A third session of the evidence-based course, which is designed to help people aged 55 and over reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, is also planned for some time in the spring.

Dawn Welch, health professional at Norm Waitt Sr. The YMCA said anyone 55 and older who is concerned about dementia but is not yet showing any cognitive decline should consider taking the class, which also provides information and resources as support.

There are different types of dementia, which is a devastating condition that can destroy a person’s physical, mental, emotional, social and financial well-being.

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“He might be someone 80 years old, but he’s still doing very well. It could be someone who just turned 55 and wants to make sure they’re doing everything they can to change their lifestyle to prevent it,” said Welch of those who would be prime candidates for the course . “If there is a family history of dementia, that would definitely be a reason to take it.”

KEYS was developed by Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, an Iowa epidemiologist emeritus, in tandem with a medical program offered by Dr. Yogesh Shah, a geriatrician and chief medical officer at Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines. The Norm Waitt Sr. YMCA is able to offer the program to members and non-members for $20 per person through a partnership with the YMCA of Greater Des Moines and a grant from the Iowa Department of Public Health.

Welch said the class, currently located at the Siouxland Center for Active Generations, is “very hands-on” and requires people to set goals and participate fully. Although the course consists of some presentations, Welch said participants complete KEYS-based exercises, participate in group discussions and meet one-on-one with specialists, including a nutritionist, a fitness specialist and a pharmacist who specializes in geriatrics.

“The cool thing about it is that they get the group interaction. The social part is a big part of it,” Welch said. “As we age, we can have cognitive decline if we don’t have that social time as well.”

Each week the course covers a different KEY to prevention. All KEYS are interconnected. Eating well is one of those key areas. The KEYS program recommends the MIND diet, which is a combination of the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet for hypertension.

“There’s a lot of focus on eating leafy greens, lots of fruits and vegetables, very little meat and lots of fish,” Welch explained. “They are known to be good for brain health. The MIND diet is a really good resource for people.”

Movement is another KEY. The more active a person is, the more blood there will be to their brain. Welch said this helps prevent cognitive decline.

“You also get these endorphins – dopamine, serotonin. It will also help you stay clear,” said Welch, who noted that one of the program’s sessions takes place at the YMCA. Participants sign up for a half-hour appointment with a personal trainer who takes them around the YMCA’s wellness floor and teaches them how to use the exercise equipment.

“Part of the program right now is that they do get access to the Y during the KEYS program. It’s a huge advantage,” she said.

Getting enough sleep, another KEY, is one of the foundations of health, according to Welch. If a person doesn’t get enough sleep, she said, they don’t think or feel right. She said that an individual’s immune system is also negatively affected by lack of sleep.

“We’re talking about what we can do about sleep hygiene — make sure the bedroom is just for sleeping, don’t drink alcohol or caffeine before bed, don’t turn on the TV, sleep in a cool room,” she said. “Sleep is very important. Many people who have cognitive decline don’t get quality sleep.”

For more information or to register for the KEYS program, visit or call 402-404-8439.

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