In a recent survey of 1,037 older Americans, memory loss was cited as their No. 1 fear, more so than the fear of being buried alive, snakes or a terrorist attack. The American Psychological Association predicts that dementia-related anxiety is on the rise and could become its own clinical disorder.
These fears have created a ripe opportunity for marketers, and brain scientists warn that an epidemic of exploitation is dominating the field. In 2014, 74 psychologists and neuroscientists from around the world wrote an open letter to companies marketing “brain products,” stating they are “exploiting customers by making exaggerated and misleading claims that are not based on sound scientific evidence.”
These facts inspired Pinehurst neuropsychologist Karen D. Sullivan, PhD, ABPP, to create the “I Care For Your Brain with Dr. Sullivan” program.
“I have serious concerns about the so-called ‘brain fitness’ industry, including supplements, computer games and phone apps that promise to enhance brain functioning and, even, prevent or reverse brain diseases, like dementia,” Sullivan says. “It is well known in scientific circles that there is very little to no proof that these products do anything except empty the wallets of older adults to the tune of 8-10 billion dollars annually. I knew I had a responsibility to offer something better. My goal was to develop a brain health program that was entirely based in science and motivates older adults to make the genuinely impactful changes that, according to scientists not marketing executives, really improve brain health.”
After two years of development, Sullivan launched the “I Care For Your Brain” program last October at Penick Village, a life plan retirement community in Southern Pines. To date, more than 1,600 people attended the monthly lecture series.
“The program is centered on nine brain-centric topics that science has shown to contribute to successful aging,” Sullivan says, “The lectures are delivered in two parts, beginning with high-quality scientific information on a topic and concluding with evidence-based recommendations that participants can begin implementing immediately. My goal is to empower older adults with practical and achievable instruction that truly improves their brain health at little or no cost.”
“There are more than 100 scientific journals dedicated to brain health, and until now, the main way the public learned about all of the incredible information contained in these pages was in sensationalized media snippets, emphasizing ‘shock value’ or to sell a product. I wanted to close this gap and give older adults the objective, science-based information needed to truly attain brain health.”
Recognizing the impact of the program, LeadingAge North Carolina, a Raleigh-based nonprofit representing 69 senior living communities, including Penick Village, presented its Excellence in Collaboration award to the “I Care For Your Brain” program in May.
“Dr. Sullivan’s program is delivered in an easy-to-understand style that is purposefully designed to motivate for action,” says Jeff Hutchins, Penick Village CEO. “The program empowers older adults with unbiased, scientifically vetted information about brain health, independence and living a life of quality. This is the type of advocacy in action that will revolutionize the aging industry, and we are thrilled to have partnered with Dr. Sullivan to offer this program. Our residents have absolutely loved it, and we’ve never had a more consistently well-attended event in our history.”
Prior to opening her neuropsychology practice in Pinehurst, Sullivan completed her formal education and training at Boston University, Harvard Medical School and assistant professorship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine. She draws from her personal experiences as a caregiver, nursing assistant, therapeutic companion, activities director and co-director of an adult day health program.
“I am determined to provide older adults with the information they need to become more informed consumers of brain science and empowered participants in this important aspect of their health,” Sullivan adds. “I began my career in residential communities and am proud to provide a bridge from the academic back to the ‘real’ world.’”
The second year of the “I Care For Your Brain” program lectures resume at Penick Village on Oct. 31, presented monthly through June 2018. The in-person lectures also begin at Forest at Duke, a continuing care retirement community in Durham, in January 2018.
“Dr. Sullivan has done an amazing job of bringing important brain issues to the forefront,” says Margaret Sherrod, a program participant. “She explained the topics in a very clear and interesting manner—things no one talks about, always with a little humor and, most importantly, a great deal of knowledge. I’ve gotten so much out of it. It’s made a big difference in my life.”
Due to its popularity to date, Sullivan is also offering the “I Care For Your Brain” program in a new online format through www.ICFYB.com.
“It became clear after just a few in-person lectures that I needed to expand to an online version of the program,” Sullivan says. “The interest level has been so strong, we literally don’t have enough seats for everyone who wants to attend. It’s been very satisfying to see my vision for bringing high-quality, scientific information about brain health a reality.”
For more information, visit www.ICFYB.com or call 910-420-8041.