• Blog
  • 2008
  • UCF Students Use Wii and Yoga to Help Alzheimer's Patients
Text Size:
Print This Page

UCF Students Use Wii and Yoga to Help Alzheimer's Patients

Click image to enlarge

By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala

Eighty-nine-year-old Fred Tombros calls the therapy sessions he attends with University of Central Florida graduate students a "godsend."

Tombros is one of 12 people who attends sessions of Brain Fitness, a program aimed at helping those with early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease or other dementia keep their cognitive skills sharp.

UCF students provide individual evaluations and therapy sessions. Then the student therapists work with the participants to sharpen their cognitive skills by playing games on the Wii, along with ping-pong, pool, Scrabble and other games.

"I'd be at home doing nothing," said Tombros, a former glassmaker who has been coming to the program at First United Methodist Church in Winter Park for two years. "Here I learn some things, help out the students and enjoy myself. I can't complain about a thing."

Nancy Gerrity founded Brain Fitness in 2007 for a very personal reason. Her husband Tom, in his early 50s, was diagnosed with early onset of Alzheimer's disease. At the time, there were no local day facilities that provided appropriate stimulation for persons with early onset dementia, so she began advocating for one.

"What I found was a real gap in what was provided and what was needed," said Gerrity, who works full time at an engineering firm. "So, with the help of a few people, we created Brain Fitness."

Peggy Bargmann, a registered nurse and the director of a support group Gerrity attended, directs the two-day-a-week program. Clinical Instructor Janet Whiteside at the UCF Communication Disorders Clinic supervises the graduate students, who are studying speech therapy, during the weekly visits to Brain Fitness.

"Each game, everything we do here has a purpose," Bargmann said. "It's not just entertainment; it helps keep certain cognitive skills sharp."

Tombros, for example, loves to play pool. So, as part of his therapy, he teaches others the game. Another participant is learning to play ping-pong, which is helping her process new information and coordination. Group activities include yoga, drawing and walking.

Tonia LaTesta, a UCF graduate student, said she is learning as much or more than some of the clients. 

"I had no idea what to expect," LaTesta said. "I had these ideas of what dementia patients were like -that they stayed at home and couldn't do much. Now I know better. Consistency can help maintain and even improve their abilities."

Nancy Slay, another graduate student, said she finds the experience invaluable.

"It really prepares you because there's one thing to learn it in a book and then there's real practice when you have a real client and you have to specialize what you are doing to meet that person's need," she said.

The UCF Communication Disorders Clinic maintains many partnerships with community groups to benefit local residents and give students practical experience.

The program is funded through grants and private donations. First United Methodist Church provides the space for free and recently agreed to take on the program as one of its ministries. Still, the program can always use financial support, Gerrity said.

The cost for participants is $35 per day. Because UCF students provide the therapy sessions, the program is run on a semester basis and takes breaks during the holidays.

"I'm so grateful for all the help we've received," Gerrity said. "The church has been supportive, and the partnership with UCF is great. It has benefited our family personally, and to know this helps so many others, it's so rewarding."

For information on the program, call Brain Fitness at 407-927-4380.

Share and Enjoy:

Mentioned : Janet Whiteside


The health care informatics master's program at UCF really helped me connect with the industry, meet people at conferences and sit for the most-desired certification exams."
— Michael Neimann M.S. in health care informatics ('14)
My internship with the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I gained an excellent understanding of the medical examiner’s office and the criminal justice field in general."
— Adam Stubley B.S. in criminal justice, criminal profiling certificate ('11)
UCF provides its physical therapy students with an excellent education and prepares them to work in the most challenging of settings."
— Jamie Dyson Rehabilitation Supervisor, Orlando Regional Medical Center
UCF's program provided me the opportunity to expedite my student experience while attaining practical experience working within local health systems."
— Daniel Barr V.P. at National Children's Hospital; M.S. in health sciences, health services administration track ('04)
My master's education helped me see the big picture of the nonprofit industry. UCF showed me how to see the different fundraising tools within the Central Florida area."
— Krysti Griffith Executive Director of Growth from Grief; Master of Nonprofit Management ('12)
The course opened my eyes to grant writing ... I learned a great deal and you [Barbara Howell] are truly an excellent instructor."
— Deborah Reith Master of Public Administration student who secured a $10,000 federal grant through a course project; B.S. in criminal justice ('86)
The skills I learned during my time at UCF are what made my transition to law school so seamless."
— Jacqueline Iaquinta Touro Law Center student; B.S. in legal studies ('10)
As an inaugural graduate of the M.R.A. program at UCF, I can attest to the outstanding curriculum developed for research administrators. "
— April Heyward Post Award Services Coordinator, University of South Carolina; Master of Research Administration ('13)
It was at UCF that I first learned many of the skills that I’ve since honed, including mapping with GIS software - an ability I found invaluable to my search for internships, graduate-level coursework, and employment."
— Richard "Ben" Hagen Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project, New York City; B.S. in public administration ('10)
I am excited to be able to give back to the program that invested so much in me. It is truly and honor and a privilege."
— Carlos Gual Instructor of Athletic Training; B.S. in athletic training ('09)
The faculty advisor [at my medical school] was amazed that I had the opportunity to truly participate in the full spectrum of research as an undergraduate. "
— Chase Cavayero, medical student at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicince, B.S. in health sciences - pre-clinical ('13) 
Give a Gift - The College of Healh & Public Affairs