YMCA Program Uses Robots to Help Older Adults Improve Cognitive Skills – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

We end November with important information about Alzheimer’s Awareness Month.

According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 50 million people worldwide have dementia. Every year, about 10 million new cases result in Alzheimer’s disease.

In an effort to combat the effects, the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is doing something good for society.

Studies show that technology – digital devices like smartphones and tablets – and learning new things can help minimize the chances of older adults developing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Tonjia Grimble, senior project manager for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, took it up by adding robots to it.



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The spherical robots are controlled using an iPad and a specialized app.

“We often see our older adults play Candy Crush or all these other games, but this is something a little different. All of these things are designed to help their memory stay strong, cognitive abilities to stay strong,” she said. “It actually improved their skill level in code and all STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) because it’s a little bit different than just getting into the computer and playing on a smartphone.”

She taught a group of seniors at the Park South YMCA how to operate rolling miniature robots called Sphero. The organization has teaching STEM kits that they use for youth groups, but Grimble wanted to try the program on older adults to see how they could also benefit from it.

The adult program participants learned to navigate and control the robots using block coding, JavaScript and even binary code.



Alanna Quillen

YMCA program participant Larry Christopher teaches by Dr. Tonjia Grimble

“As you get older, it seems like you should not have more fun, or if your fun days are over, but playing with these is great. We have a wonderful time with it,” said program participant Larry Christopher. It is fantastic. You get a chance to play with an object that is not attached to anything, it has its own mind. “

Students also learned how to sync the robots to music. They even put on their engineering hats and put markers on the robots to make works of art.



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Larry’s artwork using the robot

Grimble said the group has amazed her and hopes they can take these new skills home with them to improve their lives.

“I hope the extra element of excitement is just another layer they can use to help them minimize their chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” Grimble said.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

These classes were a test drive, and Grimble said the program was a hit. So in the new year, she hopes to get more classes to continue the innovative program.

“There are tons more curricula that we have not even taught them yet,” she said. “What I hope to do is invite more seniors and have more classes so that it allows them to stretch their legs a little bit at these activities. And maybe mix some of the kids with the adults and have a buddy one-on-one kind of teaching. “



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Grimble encourages more seniors to get active, not just physically but mentally.

“If you have a senior or someone who is interested in learning more about how they can participate in this type of program, come and visit us at the YMCA. We have all types of STEM programs for everyone,” she said.

Click here for more information or call 214-880-9622 to inquire about programs for older adults.

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