Elise Peyourx and William Haynes are eager to meet and also help their intergenerational friends.
"I'm really excited to just connect with some of the residents and create really good friendships with them,” said Peyourx.
With research, COVID-19 restrictions and patience, Peyourx and Haynes founded Brain Exercise Initiative (BEI) at LSU.
"When volunteers come to St. James Place, they will meet with the resident that they have been paired with, and they will start out the session getting to know them and start the exercise packet with them," said Haynes.
A UCLA student initially founded BEI, and the organization is based on research that reading, writing and practicing simple exercises with Alzheimer’s residents 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week will improve cognitive functioning and memory.
BEI not only focuses on helping those affected by Alzheimer’s disease but also lending a listening ear to residents.
"In helping them with their cognitive function, we also want to make these lasting impactful friendships with them,” said Peyourx.
However, nursing homes and care facilities housed covid-19 clusters, leaving residents without visitors for months.
"It’s been a pandemic, so our people have been without volunteers and families for most of the past year,” said Emily Bozeman, St. James Place Life Enrichment Manager for Assisted Living.
The pandemic may have hurt some residents more than others. Alzheimer’s disease-related deaths increased by 16% in 2020 compared to the averages of the past five years.
"It would be tremendously difficult to keep Alzheimer's patients, who are early in the disease, from getting frustrated, depressed, losing what social contacts they do have," said Owen Carmichael, a professor and director at LSU Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Carmichael said that, because of the constant help that Alzheimer’s patients need, these residents are more vulnerable of being exposed to the virus.
"Those people are at an increased risk of being infected with COVID-19 because there is really no way to keep Alzheimer's patients alive without being in close contact with them,” said Carmichael.
However, the onset of BEI may help combat the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease and loneliness that the pandemic may have caused.
"It fits in with the lifestyle we want to give them, keeping them actively engaged," said Bozeman.
Bozeman said that St. James Place activities focus on engaging the mind, body and spirit, and she thinks that BEI will aide residents in all of those aspects.
"I think that's really going to help them come out of their shells because we have seen them so isolated that this is just a chance for them to branch out and grow," said Bozeman.
While the number of Alzheimer’s patients have grown to 46 million worldwide, Peyourx and Haynes hope that their organizations’ visits will only grow in membership and helping residents’ memories.
“It was so cool how something so simple like reading or math could have this profound effect, and I also thought how crazy it was that so many people are connected by this disease,” said Peyourx.
Peyourx and Haynes hope this initiative will fight against this common disease and keep these residents continuing to share their wisdom and stories.
"Long-term, we really hope for a future in which people with Alzheimer's can remember their children and grandchildren,” said Haynes.
A future that residents will remember.
The organization plans to begin virtual or in-person visits with St. James Place residents as early as next month.
To learn more about BEI, visit their Instagram—@bei.lsu—and TigerLink page.