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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

CAMH’s new Brain Gym gives your cerebrum a workout

It doesn’t have any treadmills or weight machines, but CAMH’s new Brain Gym will definitely provide a great workout.

The Brain Gym is located in the Intergenerational Wellness Building at the Queen Street site and is part of the Psychogeriatric Assessment, Consultation and Education (PACE) Clinic.

“It’s a shared space for clients and staff to run groups related to brain or memory interventions,” says Joydip Banerjee, manager of CAMH’s Geriatric Outpatient Clinics and Services. “Before it was basically just a plain room with some chairs and some computers and we’ve made it very functional and tech savvy so clients would actually want to come in here.”

CAMH's new brain gym
CAMH’s new Brain Gym

The idea for the room came up when geriatric sub specialty psychiatry resident Dr. Angela Golas and Psychiatry Research Fellow Dr. Sawsan Kalache ran a pilot project on cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) for geriatric patients experiencing late life schizophrenia. The pilot was done under the supervision of CAMH Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry Dr. Tarek Rajji and Dr. Chris Bowie, a CRT expert, clinician scientist at CAMH and associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Queen’s University.

CRT involves patients doing cognitive exercises that practice skills like problem solving, memory and concentration. These skills are key to being able to perform everyday activities, such as making grocery lists or taking transit. Dr. Golas has clients play computer games to train their brains. Certain aspects of the therapy proved a challenge, and not in the way you’d imagine.

“We discovered while we were doing the therapy that there were a lot of barriers to the clients doing the therapy because of some of the ergonomics of the room itself,” Dr. Golas said. Power cords on the floor created tripping hazards and the computers created equipment challenges, as many elderly clients had never handled a mouse before. “We would be spending much of our time during the therapy overcoming the barriers of the therapy and much less attempting the challenges of the therapy itself.”

So the team brainstormed a wishlist and Joydip and Dr. Golas set about making the Brain Gym a reality, thanks to generous donations from sisters Janice Howard and Pat Sparrer and 10 other donors through the CAMH Foundation.

Brain gym group
(L to R) Daniel Wright, Darrell Gregersen, Janice Howard, Pat Sparrer, donor Linda Hubling, Dr. Angela Golas, Joydip Banerjee, CAMH Chief of Geriatric Psychiatry Dr. Tarek Rajji

The sisters made the donation in memory of their mother, Mary Sparrer, who lived with Alzheimer’s, according to Suzanne Duncan, Principal Gift Officer at the CAMH Foundation.

“Although Mary did not receive services from CAMH, Pat and Janice decided to make a gift because their gift would have a real impact to the clients in the programs at CAMH,” said Suzanne. Janice is also the sister-in-law of CAMH Foundation’s President and CEO, Darrell Gregersen. “Darrell is just thrilled and proud her family understands the importance of CAMH and how work that is being done here will affect the future generations of the family.”

The money paid for the purchase of tablets, stands and locking equipment for the tablets, a projector as well as a projector screen, armchairs and furnishing a game corner. However, the problem of power cords and room functionality were still an issue.

That’s when Carillion’s Director of Plant Services Daniel Wright stepped in. After Joydip and Dr. Golas asked him to help make the room user-friendly and less hazardous to its geriatric clientele, Daniel stepped up in a big way.

“We moved whiteboards, we created a feature wall and painted it to add some colour to the space. We hung photographs, art work, we took the existing furniture and adapted it to work with the tablets,” said Daniel. He addressed tripping hazards and hung the projector. And the kicker: Carillion, and Daniel, donated all materials and time for the job. “It really has been a labour of love for me personally,” he said.

Daniel, a photography buff, even donated a couple of his own photos to the space, a bridge shot in Bruges, Belgium and a winter shot in Vermont. “It’s fantastic. It’s a bit of a reminder for me every time I come in here and it’ll outlast me.”

PACE clinic Occupational Therapist Donna Pfefer solicited art from clients. CAMH client and photographer Daniel Dunnett also donated his photographs to the wall. “Since I’ve been at CAMH, my mind has opened up again and by displaying my photography I’m hoping to help open the minds of others and to motivate and inspire them to tap into their own creativity.”

Dr. Golas is excited to get things going. She says there are currently no studies published on CRT and its effects on patients over 60 with late life schizophrenia. “This money allows tests on how CRT can be applied to this group.”

Joydip estimates the room will be ready for use by groups starting next month. The room was just opened for a tour a few weeks ago, which included the two primary donors who made the Brain Gym possible. “When they came they said they had donated a small amount of money,” said Joydip. “But whatever they consider small made a huge impact on the room, which is a testament that people can donate as much as they want and it makes a big impact.”

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