You have dementia. For many, these words mark the end of life as they know it. But at the recently opened Alumia Institute in Englewood, a dementia diagnosis is just the beginning of a new chapter—one that can be lived out with dignity even as it brings challenges.
“The program was built for people at the time of diagnosis,” says Kathi Miracle, Alumia’s executive director, “because when someone is first diagnosed with any type of dementia, there is not a great resource out there for them to stay active and continue exercising their brain.”
Dementia is an umbrella term for a collection of brain syndromes that affect different kinds of cognition, from memory (signature of Alzheimer’s, the best-known and most common dementia) to behavior and emotion. There are more than 100 forms of dementia, and the way they present depends on what parts of the brain are deteriorating. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, physical activity and targeted mental activity are thought to slow cognitive decline by increasing blood flow to the brain and strengthening neural connections.
Alumia’s unique program, called Kynemics, combines five different therapies (or modalities)—art, exercise, education, music, and brain training—to stimulate activity in every part of the brain. Members are grouped into cohorts of no more than 15 people, and they follow a schedule from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. either two days, three days, or five days per week. They’re also served food from Alumia’s in-house kitchen that follows the MIND Diet, a diet specifically designed to support brain health that has been shown to decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Alumia’s multimodal approach is supported by data from a 2015 study conducted in Finland, known as the FINGER study. The first large-scale study of its kind, it followed more than 2,000 seniors for two years and found that using multiple, simultaneous interventions could prevent or slow down cognitive decline. (The Alzheimer’s Association is currently recruiting participants for a similar study in the U.S.)
According to Miracle, who has spent most of her career working with people who have dementia, these therapies have been used individually for years, but Alumia is bringing them together with a structure to focus on keeping the entire brain active. “You have slices of the program in dementia world,” Miracle says, “but not to what Alumia is doing under one roof.”
When new members enter the Alumia Institute for the first time, they’re greeted by lively green walls, inviting seating areas, and natural lighting that makes the whole space feel more open and bright than it already is. If they come early, before therapy begins, they can grab a drink or snack from the kitchen and settle in the dining room or social area to talk with friends or staff, or pick up an issue of National Geographic, or challenge another member to a game of chess.
At the time of their enrollment, members are given a baseline assessment to help Alumia staff understand where they are cognitively and how to best serve them. As they continue in the program, they’re reassessed monthly and quarterly to monitor any changes in their brain and any impact the therapies might be having. “Are we improving cognitive strength?” Miracle says. “Or if the brain is declining, what part of the brain is declining?”
The results of these assessments are then bundled into a report with recommendations from Alumia experts and shared with the members and their families, who are encouraged to share the reports with their doctors.
At the early stages of dementia, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish what specific type a patient has, but these assessments could speed up that process. “[The assessments] would absolutely help us identify the issues that they’re having and probably get us to a subtype,” says Dr. Thomas Lally of Bloom Health Care, a home visit practice specializing in serving late-stage dementia patients. “As we start understanding the subtype, we now understand how to mitigate the complications.”
As Colorado’s aging population grows—according to the Colorado Health Institute, the number of those 65 and older is expected to grow by 61 percent between 2016 and 2030—multimodal interventions like Alumia’s could be key to not only preserving cognitive health, but also improving long-term quality of life and postponing the need for memory care.
Alumia had its grand opening on January 16 and is currently accepting members to reach their 75-member capacity. Program rates run from $1,200 to $3,000 per month and can be paid privately, although Alumia may also be able to work with long term care insurance depending on the member’s plan. Alumia offers a complimentary week to those who want to try the program before committing to a membership.