Mental Exercise Insights From the Brain Emporium

T.J. McCallum, executive director of The Brain Emporium

The Brain Emporium is a computerized "fitness center" with a mission to engage senior citizens and help them improve cognitive skills. It's the first such center in Ohio, and one of the few designed in this manner. T.J. McCallum, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Brain Emporium, and an associate professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. His philosophy is simple: we exercise our bodies to improve our health, and we should exercise our brains to enhance our mental abilities. Dr. McCallum provides an overview of the Brain Emporium and his hopes for the future.

Brain Emporium Interview

Your specialty is geropsychology. Please give us an overview of what that is.

Geropsychology is the study of psychological, biological, and social changes associated with the aging process. I was trained as a clinical psychologist, so my focus has been on assisting older adults and their families in dealing with difficulties associated with the aging process. I have worked with families and individuals dealing with issues such as depression, dementia, and anxiety.

seniors working on computers at brain emporium
photo courtesy of the Brain Emporium

In your work with older adults, what has surprised you?

I have always been surprised by the resilience many older adults display in the face of difficulty.

What Is the Brain Emporium?

You've pioneered the Brain Emporium, a computerized brain fitness center for older adults. What prompted its development?

My main geropsychological experiences were with families dealing with the horrific problems associated with Alzheimer's Disease, and I wanted to work on some more positive aspects of aging. I was able to conduct a few basic studies involving computer classes with seniors and decided to test a recently-created program designed to "cognitively enhance" older adults.

With the help of my university, I was able to open a small computer center devoted solely to providing older adults with access to programs such as Lumosity, Fitbrains, Happy Neuron, and Posit Science at little or no cost.

seniors doing mental exercise at brain emporium
photo courtesy of the Brain Emporium

What can a senior expect when visiting the Emporium?

My graduate students and I suggest specific games or specific sequences of games based upon the interests of the senior. Some seniors prefer to play for enjoyment and others want to improve memory or language skills, expand their visual field or work on planning.

We guide them through 40 minutes to an hour of different games from companies that we believe will best meet our seniors' needs. We have also just begun to administer a short series of tests to independently track cognitive improvement of Brain Emporium members every three-to-six months.

Positive Response Encourages Possible Expansion

What feedback have you received about the program?

People report being challenged and a little fatigued after each session, and we think that is great. New games are being created every few weeks, and I think people also like the variety.

Though most people who visit the Brain Emporium have no cognitive impairments, we also have several people who have suffered strokes or head injuries who report benefits from using the programs available at the Brain Emporium.

Is this a program you hope to expand throughout the U.S.?

I am in the early stages of applying for non-profit status, and I would love to expand once that process is complete. It would be fantastic to have multiple Brain Emporiums throughout the country wherever there are interested seniors!

Caregiving Advice

mental exercise at the brain emporium
photo courtesy of the Brain Emporium

You also work with caregiving families and caregiving support groups. What insight can you share with us?Some of the biggest issues associated with caregiving are education and resources. I strongly advocate for families to become well-versed in the course of whatever disease afflicts their loved one, as well as local resources to assist with the caregiving process.

In support groups, we always try to provide tools for the caregiver to deal with difficult issues and promote caregiver self care.

~Tracey L. Kelley

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Mental Exercise Insights From the Brain Emporium