Satchidanand to Test Exercise, Art Program for Older Adults

Nikhil Satchidanand, PhD.

Nikhil Satchidanand, PhD

Published March 24, 2020

The Health Foundation for Western and Central New York has awarded Nikhil Satchidanand, PhD, a grant to continue his work with older adults.

“We hypothesize that our weekly art-making and dual-task training sessions will improve executive functions, fine motor skills, balance and walking ability.”
Research assistant professor of medicine

The project — “The Movers and Makers Club: A Community-Based Recreation Program to Improve Cognition and Motor Function in Older Adults” — has started testing the impact of community-based art-making and dual-task (thinking-while-moving) physical activity training on cognition and motor function in adults, age 65 and older.

“Our group-based intervention has the potential to improve functional outcomes and help older adults maintain independence in aging, while promoting social support and enjoyment of physical activity, says Satchidanand, research assistant professor of medicine.

“I am excited to realize the potential of the Movers and Makers program and support our older adult community members in maintaining their independence and quality of life.”

Aiming to Improve Motor Functions, More

Satchidanand has partnered with the Ken-Ton Family YMCA, which runs several fitness programs and special events for older adults, and Fine Art Miracles, a non-profit organization dedicated to enriching the lives of community members through fine arts education and hands-on art making.

Participants have engaged in weekly art-making and dual-task physical activity training, instructed by trained professionals from these organizations.

“We hypothesize that our weekly art-making and dual-task training sessions will improve executive functions, fine motor skills, balance and walking ability,” says Satchidanand, a faculty member with UB’s Center for Successful Aging.

“These two complementary therapies have been brought together in our project with a focus on challenging the brain and body, while creating an enjoyable experience for participants,” he notes.

“We also anticipate that participation in Movers and Makers will be associated with improved self-efficacy for exercise, social support and overall quality of life. The shared experience of being physically active together, with people who have similar challenges, will strengthen social connections and help prevent social isolation that is often experienced by older adults,” says Satchidanand, who is an exercise physiologist with expertise in motor development and geroscience.

“The results of our study will help us refine and adapt the intervention to be delivered in other community organizations across Western and Central New York.”

Developing, Testing Intervention Methods

The first phase of the project was focused on developing the intervention program with input from key stakeholders, including older adult community members, YMCA leadership and wellness staff members.

“The development of this project involved creation of an art-making curriculum that utilizes a wide variety of media, techniques and content designed to provide some structure while allowing participants the freedom to develop their own styles,” Satchidanand says.

Simultaneously, a group of older adults worked with the team to develop the dual-task training program using the SmartFIT Cognitive-Motor Training System (developed in Camarillo, Calif.) an innovative, multisensory, exergaming platform that engages the brain and body using game technology. 

“Direct, ongoing feedback from community stakeholders through a series of focus groups and user groups has helped our team create a curriculum that is appealing and appropriate for participants. Trained instructors worked with community members to create a highly immersive and engaging experience that promotes success, self-efficacy and a sense of accomplishment. These factors are important for facilitating long-term participation in community-based programs,” he notes.

During the second phase — that has been ongoing — Satchidanand and his team have tested the intervention methods in a community-based, randomized controlled trial. The third phase allows time to refine the intervention methods, disseminate key findings and prepare for larger-scale implementation in other community-based sites in the region.

Plans for the Future of Movers and Makers

“Our plan moving forward is to help other community organizations adapt our program to optimally meet their programmatic needs while staying in tune with the overarching aim of Movers and Makers,” says Satchidanand.

“We are dedicated to expanding upon this preliminary work so that we can continue to help older adults live healthier, happier lives.” 

Research Paused

The research project described in this article has paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.