SAIDO Learning brings hope for Alzheimer’s patients

Kathy Theis leads a resident of Good Shepherd Home through a SAIDO Learning exercise. The SAIDO method is a drug-free treatment option that has brought measurable improvements to Alzheimer’s and other dementia patients. Nearly 100 staff members at the Fostoria care center are certified SAIDO supporters, and about 30 residents attend sessions. The facility also offers a day program, the DayBreak SAIDO Learning Center. (Provided photo)


FOSTORIA — A program that uses simple arithmetic, writing and reading exercises to slow the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias is being offered at Good Shepherd Home in Fostoria.

Called SAIDO Learning, this cognitive rehabilitation therapy program is a drug-free treatment developed by the Kumon Institute of Education of Japan to address symptoms such as apathy and depression. It is also intended to improve quality of life and cognitive and physical functioning in older adults.

“There’s hope for people with Alzheimer’s and this is it,” said Chris Widman, executive director of Good Shepherd Home.

The nursing facility recently celebrated its third anniversary offering the program to its residents. A year ago, the facility also opened a day program, called the DayBreak SAIDO Learning Center.

According to Widman and Good Shepherd administrator Beau Walters, the SAIDO learning method is based on the concept that engaging in the simple, specific therapy stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain and can reverse dementia symptoms. A trained caregiver engages two older adults in a series of simple exercises that are performed about 30 minutes, five times a week.

“And what we’ve seen are remarkable results as far as the scores on their mini mental test. And the families are just excited about the differences they see in their family members, the residents with the Alzheimer’s or other dementias,” said Widman. “We hear comments like, ‘I have my mom back again.'”

Widman explained that SAIDO learning was started in Japan in 2001. Ten years later, trials were held at the Eliza Jennings care facility in Cleveland. After observing the program in action, administrators decided to bring the program to Fostoria.

He said Good Shepherd was the seventh location in the United States outside of Eliza Jennings to offer the program.

“I’m not aware of any other treatment, any other program, any medication, that can take what this program does to the individual who has Alzheimer’s and provide improvement,” Widman said. “There’s no other program out there that I’m aware of that identifies recordable, marked improvement with someone with dementia.”

Instruction is offered on a monthly basis at the Fostoria nursing home and close to 100 staff members in a variety of departments have been trained in SAIDO, said Walters. Currently, about 30 residents attend sessions in a special room that has been set up on the lower level of Good Shepherd Home. One staff member works with two residents most of the time.

“One staff member and two learners is the best way to do it because we encourage conversation. We encourage them to encourage each other, which happens throughout the entire session,” Walters said.

Everything is charted electronically and goes into a database that is monitored by both Eliza Jennings and the Kumon Institute.

“So they’re really hands-on with the program, and they’ve actually been here multiple times from Japan,” said Walters. “They actually came for our first and second anniversaries.”

When someone decides to join the program, two standard cognitive tests — the Mini-Mental State Examination and the Frontal Assessment Battery — determines an individual’s “just-right-level.”

“That’s the key to the whole program, is that ‘just-right-level’, because you don’t want it too hard where they’re struggling, they’re frustrated. And you don’t want it too easy where they’re like, ‘I don’t want to do this, this is childish’. So we have the ‘just-right-level’ to make sure that it’s activating the prefrontal cortex and everything is working the way it should,” Walters said.

There are 18 different levels of basic math, reading and writing, and 1,080 worksheets that can accommodate someone with very severe dementia to someone who has mild dementia, he said. During sessions, the learners read aloud, write and perform simple math calculations as quickly as they can.

Walters said reading aloud stimulates the prefrontal cortex more than silent reading.

“It’s kind of awkward at first, but after a couple of sessions they love it,” he said. “And then you have one resident who’s encouraging the other one, and we’re constantly praising. So every time you say, ‘you’re doing a great job, you’re doing wonderful, you did that so well’, it’s lighting up their prefrontal cortex which is exercising it, which is helping with the dementia.”

Partners work on different activities at the same time.

“You might think that would be distracting, but it’s not,” Walters said. “They’re really focused on what they’re doing and they don’t really worry about what the other person is doing until they’re maybe done and then they’re encouraging the next person.”

Partners don’t have to be at the same level either.

“We’ve had someone on the lowest level and someone on one of the highest levels, and yet they still work really well together and they encourage each other,” he said.

Regardless of how well they do on exercises, everyone receives a perfect score of 100 percent. Walters said it’s less about being correct and more about giving learners the confidence to continue so they can gradually improve.

“You should just see the looks on their faces. They’re just ecstatic,” he said. “It’s amazing, but it’s all about the praise, all about doing the ‘just-right-level’ on the worksheets and doing things out loud.”

And residents enjoy their sessions. Drinks and snacks are provided, and essential oils are utilized.

“We don’t want them to dread coming to the program. And after the first couple of times, they’re like, ‘I’m going to school today,'” he said.

Widman said families have told him they see a difference in their loved ones.

“The staff sees it. The family sees it. It’s amazing,” he said.

One resident who was living in the dementia unit started the SAIDO program and progressed to the point that she was moved to assisted living.

“And that’s not something you normally see. You usually see somebody coming from assisted living and going the other way,” he said. “And the family 100 percent attributes that to the SAIDO program.”

A year ago, the Good Shepherd Home also started offering SAIDO learning as a day program. The DayBreak SAIDO Learning Center is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and combines group and individual activities.

Good Shepherd Home has also been designated as the first model home community in the United States, and people from all over the country have visited to find out more.

“I think it’s just such a foreign concept and it’s one of those things, it’s hard to read about it and understand,” said Walters. “If you actually see it and you see the results, it blows you away. If we can get people in the door to check out the program and tour the program, people are just blown away.”

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‘I had part of my mom back’


FOSTORIA — Sandy Cooley decided to get trained in SAIDO Learning after witnessing the impact it had on her mother, Mary Williams.

“She worked herself backward. She went from the Alzheimer’s unit, not speaking to hardly anybody, working her way to the best. And then she was almost ready to go back home,” said Cooley.

Although her mother has since died, Cooley remains a proponent of the program that was developed by the Kumon Institute of Education in Osaka, Japan. She is a home health aide for Good Shepherd, where her mother had been a resident. Cooley is a certified supporter and does SAIDO training with two people in their homes. She also fills in at the DayBreak SAIDO Learning Center as needed.

She said her mother’s problems started in October 2014 when a cough turned into bronchitis. Hospital visits revealed that Williams, who was 73 at the time, was struggling with memory issues. Testing and visits to various doctors confirmed that Williams did in fact have the start of dementia.

Williams was admitted to Good Shepherd Home’s Alzheimer’s unit in 2015. Soon after, one of the nurses talked with the family about the SAIDO program.

“So we watched it. And I thought, ‘well, it’s kind of interesting’. And we went home and talked about it and we both thought, ‘that’s just another moneymaker for them. How can that help somebody,’” said Cooley.

At the time she was working for a Japanese automotive company, so she took a flier about the program to work and asked her boss if he knew anything about the Kumon Institute.

“He couldn’t believe I knew what that was. And he said, yes, it’s very big in Japan. That starting with children, all the way up through adult, they do this program, similar to the SAIDO program, to make the kids smarter,” said Cooley.

In turn, he told some of the other Japanese staff that Cooley was looking into the program.

“I had numerous people coming up and telling me that that’s a very good institute and their programs are always good,” she said. “So with that information and Dad and myself and my brothers talking it over, we decided we’ll give it a try.”

Over the next several months, Cooley said her mother became a different person.

“She didn’t fight Dad when he would go to leave as much. She started talking with the other residents, with the staff. She would help them do things. If somebody needed something, she made sure she told the staff,” said Cooley. “Good Shepherd always teased her and said she had to be put on payroll because she was doing so good.”

After about six months, the family asked to have Williams moved from the Alzheimer’s unit to the open nursing home area.

“She adapted very well, met some new friends. She started going on bus trips that the nursing home offers,” said Cooley.

After another six months, the staff in the assisted living area felt that Williams might be able to live there.

“We had our what if’s about it,” Cooley said. “What if she tries to get out? What if there’s not a nurse right there if she needs something? But then we thought, ‘OK, if they have faith in Mom, then we have to have it, too.’”

Williams adjusted fine, all the while continuing with the SAIDO program.

“From what we can see, it helped her with her memory. Her self-esteem was better. She was able to communicate with the residents. She wasn’t as, I guess you’d say, as backward. She blossomed somewhat,” said Cooley.

Williams and her 7-year-old great-grandson were able to share the experience.

“Whenever he would come over here or if we would take her to my house, he would say, ‘can we do worksheets, Grandma?’ They would do math problems together. They would grade each other’s paper,” she said. “So not only was it helping my mom, it was helping my grandson as well. They would read together. They would take turns reading.”

The family eventually decided to try moving Williams home and were prepared to enroll her in the four-hour DayBreak SAIDO Learning Center at Good Shepherd Home. Williams died before they got the chance, but Cooley remains interested in and supportive of the program.

“It’s just so rewarding,” she said. “I think everyone who has somebody that has the start of memory loss should really check into it.”

“I look at us at the beginning. We thought that’s just a moneymaker. Then I look at where would my mom have been without it, because I think it did a lot of good for her,” she said. “It helped her tremendously. I had part of my mom back.”


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