Participants at Via Cognitive Health have two fitness activities each day. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett
Participants at Via Cognitive Health have two fitness activities each day. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Alzheimer’s day program to expand its services

Twice a week, Terry Campbell knows his day will be filled with chair fitness, Jingo, art projects and conversations with friends.

“I love coming here. We’re all in the same boat. Some are worse than others,” said Campbell, a military veteran diagnosed with dementia who is a client at Via Cognitive Health, formerly known as the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer’s Care.

The program started in the late 1980s. Since the 1990s, the center has been in a former home on Central Avenue, but officials broke ground in December on a new facility that will provide increased opportunities for those with dementia and other Alzheimer’s related conditions.

The current facility has only 2,800 square feet, but the new space which fronts Washington Road across from California Dreaming, will have 24,000 square feet. That’s enough to triple the number of clients who can utilize the services, according to Jennifer Pennington, executive director.

A photo from the Dec. 13, 2022 groundbreaking ceremony at Via Cognitive Health. Courtesy photo

Keeping people engaged in mentally stimulating activities as well as physical exercise are among the focuses of the programs at the center. The goal is to keep individuals with dementia and Alzheimer’s out of a nursing home and in their own homes for as long as possible, she said.

“Routine is very important,” said Pennington.

Often, those with dementia and Alzheimer’s tend to retreat into their homes and own worlds even before a diagnosis is made. They don’t want to be a burden to their families or society. They shut out the outside world, but that sense of isolation doesn’t help them and can hinder them, she said.

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s but the neurons in the brain “can be activated with exercise and cognitive stimulation,” according to a brochure from Via. “Regular physical and mental exercise and a healthy diet may lower the risks.”

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The new center, which should open in 2024, will be constructed in two phases.

It will have open spaces not divided with lots of corridors and walls. Many walls will be made of glass to allow greater vision.

A wide range of activities are planned for the new location. People can use their motor skills and craftsmanship to do bike repair and woodworking activities while others may utilize art and music therapy.

The building will be equipped with calming lights and sounds. “Memory Preservation Nutrition” program meals will be prepared in a commercial kitchen.

In the second phase, a variety of outdoor spaces such as a formal garden, koi pond, putting green, meditation spaces, will be incorporated in the design. There will be an indoor walking track.

Pennington said a recent study showed walking is one of the best exercises for staving off the disease.

Not only are the center’s programs helpful to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s but they provide a respite for caregivers during the day.

Pennington knows there are many caregivers who could benefit from their services; however, some people aren’t aware of what the day center does.

“We need to break down the stigma of what adult day care is,” she said. “People think it’s something different than what it actually is.”

Specially trained staff with medical backgrounds are among those providing the services to the adults who attend programs.

The new center has been in planning for several years. Few centers such as Via exists in the nation. Pennington said Via officials traveled to learn more about other programs.

“There were four we really liked including one in Texas,” she said.

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Details from those centers were integrated into the plan for the new Via.

Although the center has a new name, the legacy of Jud C. Hickey will continue to be honored at the new location.

Dr. Hickey was the founding dean of the School of Dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia and was the interim president of the Medical College of Georgia from 1987-1988. He was also a client at the Alzheimer’s day center in 1996 and died from the disease in 2005, according to the center’s website.

Pennington said a history wall will be featured at the center.

Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News and Inspiring: Women of Augusta, has covered Augusta’s news for more than 35 years. Reach her at Sign up for the newsletter here.

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