By Annie Fitzpatrick
Iowa City’s elderly community gathered on Wednesday afternoon to learn about maintaining mental health and numerous ways to reduce the cognitive issues that accompany aging.
The Engage Your Brain Fair, held at the Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center, was created by University of Iowa student Allison Andrews to promote the importance of mental health among seniors.
Andrews is a psychology major earning certificates in Aging and Longevity Studies and Disabilities Studies. She began an internship with the Senior Center in January.
In her time at the center, she has conducted one-on-one fitness room orientations, in which she taught seniors to personalize their physical-activity regime in addition to facilitating a six-week Great Courses lecture on how to boost mental and physical energy.
The Engage Your Brain Fair was Andrews’ final project with the Senior Center, and she said the goal of the event was to involve the Iowa City elderly community in stimulating mental health.
“They come here and have a routine, so [we would] rather we brought in some of our instructors that are here … to showcase what we have to offer in Iowa City and ways that they can be active with trying new things,” she said.
The event began with a presentation from Michelle Voss, the director of the UI Health, Brain, and Cognition Lab. The presentation highlighted the importance of elderly people doing a variety of activities to stimulate cognitive growth.
A discussion of video games and their contribution was also part of Voss’ presentation. The possibility to enhance attention, task switching, visual memory, and reasoning can be used as cognitive training for the elderly, she said.
Senior Center program specialist Michelle Buhman, who oversaw Andrews’ time with the Senior Center, assisted with the marketing aspects of the fair.
“I think that raising awareness of the things that people can do to enhance their brain-wellness is great,” Buhman said.
After Voss’ presentation, booths relevant to mental health were set up for people to visit. Seniors Together in Aging Research, the Alzheimer’s Association, Aromatherapy with Gifts for the Body and Soul, Food for Thought, UI Aging Studies Program, and the Health, Brain and Cognition Lab were in attendance.
Senior Center member Kris Johnson, who attended the fair, said the specificity of the event was very interesting and allowed for an understanding of ways to preserve cognitive health.
“I feel like there is genuine camaraderie here … and I feel it’s so important for me, for someone at my age to be able to look around and see all these other people my age who may be experiencing some of the same things that I go through,” she said.
The fair concluded with an opportunity for community members to ask questions. The crowd was visually engaged in the fair and discussed how they could benefit from physical and mental activity.
Andrews said she was excited about the turnout for the fair and was impressed by the engagement of the elderly community of Iowa City.
“[This is] pretty inspiring; these are all older adults, and they’re really into continuing their education,” she said. “It’s definitely neat to see that.”