(Senior Health & Fitness is foregoing our typical Q&A format for this exclusive interview with Judi Bonilla, creator of Brain Fit Now)
San Diego aging expert and gerontologist Judi Bonilla has been working with older adults and their families for more than a decade and, over the years, has expanded her consulting services to include millennials who are entering the workforce and want to better understand their colleagues; individuals age 35 and over raising children, helping aging family members and working; retirees in their 70s pursuing their goal of aging in place; and elders age 80+ who want to maintain choice and quality of life as they age.
The SeniorHomes.com peoples’ choice winner of the Best Senior Living Award 2014 for Individual Social Media Rockstar, Bonilla has forged a reputation with non-profits and local government as the educator of choice to assist them in creative, innovative, and informative aging resources. She offers consulting and employee assistance services to non-profit organizations, educational institutions, corporations, and government agencies.
But, perhaps, Bonilla’s greatest achievement might be the creation of Brain Fit Now, a community-based interactive brain health program for adults 50 years and older in collaboration with the Naval Medical Center San Diego and The Oasis Institute. Brain Fit Now classes meet weekly at selected locations and combine lecture, discussion, low impact walking, and computer based brain fitness training.
In this exclusive interview, Bonilla explains about Brain Fit Now, how it got started, and her future plans for the program:
Q: How does Brain Fit now really work?
JB: Well, we know that, under certain conditions, your brain will continue to make new neuron connections and grow to operate at its best. These classes are designed for individuals 60+ who are interested in improving their heart and brain health, and they involve brain games vs. brain training, health management, nutrition, physical fitness, social connection, and stress management
Q: What motivated you to start the Brain Fit Now?
JB: Currently, there’s a lot of information about brain health both online and in print. What’s missing is a class that educates, identifies community programs, and lets students practice adapting a brain healthy lifestyle.
Q: How long did it take you to develop the program?
JB: It took over a year of research and time to develop the class.
Q: What was the response from Oasis and the Naval Medical Center when you first approached them?
JB: The Navy Medical Center Health & Wellness has been very supportive of my work as it ties in with their wellness approach to aging. Oasis too has been enthusiastic about my classes.
Q: What has been the response to your program to date?
JB: My programs make a difference in the lives of my students. So much is unknown about dementia. The best science is to reduce your variables, for some of my students its about better health management, others improve their nutrition habits, and others develop tools to manage stress. In class we cover and practice six principles and use low and high tech. My goal in each class is for my students to leave with at least one take away they can use in their daily lives.
Q: How many people are currently participating in the program?
JB: My weekly classes run between 10- 15 people. One day workshops have as many as 20-30 participants.
Q: How old is the youngest participant? Oldest?
JB: The youngest participant has been 12 years of age and the oldest? Well possibly 91. Not everyone likes to disclose their age! lol
Q: Is there any cost to participants?
JB: The cost through Oasis is $14 per session. Currently, the Downtown Central Library is sponsoring my class at no charge from now until the end of December.
Q: Are there any limitations or restrictions for participation?
JB: None. I ask my students be open to the latest and science and try some of the community services and programs I recommend to get the most benefit from the class.
Q: What are your long-term expectations for the program?
JB: My strategy is three-fold
1. To scale this program so that every senior center and CCRC throughout San Diego has access to this class.
2. To scale my online classes to reach the homebound or those without access to transportation.
3. To pilot a workplace lunch and learn program promoting a brain healthy lifestyle for early intervention.
4. To build an intergenerational online community that promotes participation in community programs and services.
I believe that dementia and Alzheimer’s will be considered a chronic condition in the future. My goal is to empower individuals with the best ways they can reduce their variables for this disease. The facts of dementia are overwhelming: every 67 seconds someone in the United States develops Alzheimer’s and more than more than 5 million Americans are living with the disease.
For further information, readers can click HERE for the Brain Fit Now website.