Community Lifestyles

Construction on Via Cognitive Health center nears completion

(Featured image: Workers paint trim on Via Cognitive Health’s new center. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News)

While the finishing touches are still going into Via Cognitive Health’s new Washington Road campus, its director can already see the space brimming with activity as she walks through it.

“This is an exciting space. This is our workshop,” said Jennifer Pennington as she walked into an unfinished room with a bay door. “We’ll have some tables in the center, where they can do projects around wood — sanding and staining. Maybe they’ll do some project prep with wood for the art studio. We’re looking to fix up old bicycles and be able to put those back out into the community for those who need bikes. This opens up many different opportunities for us to do different projects.”

The workshop is a place that she can see being a hub of activity with tools hanging on the pegboards on the walls and a TV broadcasting the latest sporting event while people are working.

She can see scout groups coming in to assist as well.

As one group works in the workshop, another might be painting or creating some type of art project on the other side of the building.

Workers are nearing the completion of Via Cognitive Health’s new building on Washington Road. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Via Cognitive Health is a day center for adults with mild cognitive impairment or mild to moderate dementia related to Alzheimer’s, Vascular Dementia, or other related cognitive decline disorders, according to its website.

Officials broke ground on the site in November 2022, and Pennington said they hope construction will be completed in March. Programming could begin as early as April, but that is dependent on receiving health permits. The worst-case scenario is June, she said.

The workshop and art studio are only two of the activities people attending the center will participate in. There are a variety of classes based on a curriculum. Activities challenge the mind and sometimes the body. Exercise is also a key component.

“Everything is meant to be cognitively stimulating to challenge the brain,” Pennington said. “Recent studies show if you can challenge your brain, it may help you tolerate symptom as the disease progresses. That’s what our goal is to provide a higher quality of life — purposeful and active.”

Formerly known as the Jud C. Hickey Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Via is currently located in a former residence on Central Avenue. The tight quarters can only accommodate about 30 members.

But in the new space, about 100 members could participate.

The building also has a computer lab and a place she called the den, where people can talk or play games or cards.

“I’m excited about involving high schools like we used to pre-COVID for game hour. Students would play games like Monopoly with the members,” she said.

 There’s also a large inside walking track and an area for exercise equipment. That room can also be used for exercise classes, and if someone isn’t interested in the class, the person could walk instead.

An indoor walking track is part of the new Via Cognitive Health center. Charmain Z. Brackett/Augusta Good News

Also located in the building is a hair salon and a marketplace that will have items people can buy; some of the items might be art pieces created in the studio or they could simply be small items the member would like to purchase but can’t get to a store to buy.

When people can’t drive anymore and lose that part of their independence, they have to rely on someone else to take them to appointments or to the store, Pennington said. With these types of places available on site, that’s one less thing a caregiver has to worry about, and it gives the members some of their independence.

The building has an open feel with lots of windows. There are no dead ends. The building is constructed in a figure-eight design. People don’t necessarily have to know where they are heading, they can see their way around.

It has controlled access for safety.  

Not only does Via provide a place for those living with dementia, but it also provides resources to family members and caregivers. One popular program is the Brain Health Lunch and Learn. A recent one had more than 100 in attendance. The events are free, but registration is required. With the new facility, the events can be held there instead of someplace off site, she said.

With new members and new programs will likely come new staff member as well as lots of volunteer opportunities.

 “We do not have parking at our old location,” she said. “I’m excited for there to be a hub of volunteer activities. We’ll have volunteers at the front desk, in the kitchen, doing activities. We didn’t have the ability to do that. This is something we are very excited about.”

Pennington said to check out the Via website for more information or to sign up to volunteer.

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

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