By Barbara Leverone

wellnes12Only within the past few decades have scientists begun to embrace the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Prior to this, it was believed that after childhood, adult brain anatomy was fixed, only changing in the direction of decline.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, considered to be one of the world’s leading researchers in the field today, has repeatedly validated, along with many others, that the adult brain, in response to experience, is indeed plastic and capable of change.

Dr. Norman Doidge, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and research faculty member at both Columbia University and the University of Toronto, went wellnes1on to explore this hypothesis. He documented Merzenich’s experiments along with many other leading-edge scientists in his 2007 best-selling book, The Brain That Changes Itself. In Dr. Doidge’s most recent book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, he continues to explore the brain’s highly dynamic ability to heal when stimulated by noninvasive use of light, sound, vibration, and movement. Using everyday language, he writes about successful treatment protocols for numerous conditions including Parkinson’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, balance issues, and chronic pain.

He devotes a chapter of his book to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity. As early as 1949, Dr. Feldenkrais wrote that the brain could form new neural pathways to organize itself in response to demands of the environment. Dr. Feldenkrais even created a method that uses movement lessons as a stimulus to develop new options for thinking, feeling, sensing, and doing.

Learn to move with ease and efficiency, and also improve posture and flexibility through the gentle, exploratory movements of The Feldenkrais Method. Discover how mindful, novel movements can create new neural pathways, and experience firsthand the power of neuroplasticity.

To read a portion of Dr. Doidge’s chapter on Dr. Feldenkrais, click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Elaine Litherland, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Doidge, M.D., Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. New York:
Penguin, 2007. Print
Doidge,M.D., Norman. The Brain’s Way of Healing. New York:
Penguin, 2015. Print.

By Chris Valuck

What is the Biodex Balance System?

BiodexIf you’ve never seen this type of equipment, it is because The Biodex Balance System™ SD is generally seen in a rehabilitation setting as opposed to a health club or wellness center.  In a senior rehab setting, Biodex might be used for fall risk screening and subsequent treatment; in a sports medicine setting it may be used as a tool to evaluate an athlete’s functional strengths and weaknesses to help develop a training program.

Biodex is suitable within a wellness center environment also, and Plymouth Harbor is fortunate to have this special piece of equipment in our new Wellness Center.  With minimal instruction, a user can independently and at their own pace, perform several different exercises, such as static and dynamic balance activities,  weight shifting, reaction time, and increasing limits of stability.  Exercises can vary in difficulty to accommodate different ability levels of the user, to improve strength, range of motion, gait and balance.  Since gait and balance disorders are high risk factors for falls, balance training is an important component to a regular fitness program at any age. (

One illustration as to the effectiveness of Biodex as a training protocol is a 2012 study conducted by Gusi et al. that incorporated the use of a Biodex in their study involving an older population.  Fear of falling was the primary outcome of the study and dynamic balance & isometric strength was secondary.  After a 12-week program of 30 minutes of balance training per week using the Biodex Balance System, the main findings concluded that the Biodex training protocols reduced the fear of falling and improved dynamic balance and knee strength.  (Gusi et al., 2012)

While not intended to replace physical therapy, Biodex may improve strength, range of motion, gait, and balance among regular users.  If you have not had a demonstration of the Biodex by a member of the Wellness staff, join us for our Equipment Orientation weekly at 11:00 a.m.


Gusi, N., Adsuar, J.C., Corzo, H., Pozo-Cruz, B., Olivares, P., & Parraca, J. (2012). Balance training reduces fear of falling and improves dynamic balance and isometric strength in institutionalized older people: a randomized trial. Journal of Physiotherapy, Vol. 58, 97-104.

Join your fellow residents for line dancing every Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00-11:30 a.m. in the Group Fitness Room.  It’s never too late to start!  We will teach you the steps to every dance . . . at your pace.

Through dancing, you will improve your cardiovascular endurance and balance.  A study in the Journal of Women and Aging interviewed 30 adults over the age of 60 who regularly line dance.  Results of the interviews showed that “line dancing enabled these women to expand their repertoire of social activity, leading to positive reinforcements such as further community involvement, charitable work, inclusion in national sports events, self-expression, and personal development. The impact of line dancing plainly goes beyond the perceived physical benefits.”

Plymouth Harbor residents who regularly participate in the class claim their balance has noticeably improved since they began line dancing!

Reference: Nadasen, K. (2008). “Life Without Line Dancing and the Other Activities Would be Too Dreadful to Imagine”: An Increase in Social Activity  for Older Women. Journal Of Women & Aging, 20(3/4), 329-342.

Wellness at Plymouth Harbor retirement community SarasotaMost of us will find ourselves using a cane at some point in our life.  Canes provide critical support for those in rehabilitation from knee or hit surgery.  When the need does arise and you find yourself with a can in hand, do you know how to use it properly?

These pointers will help you avoid further injury from misuse of this support and gain the most from the use of your cane so that you heal properly and regain your free movement as soon as possible.

Step 1:  Check the length of the cane by standing straight with your arms at your sides.  Adjust the cane until the top of it reaches the crease on the inside of your wrist.  When you hold the cane, your elbow should be flexed about 15 degrees.

Step 2:  Hold the cane in the hand that is on the same side as your good leg.  For example, if your right leg is injured, hold the cane in your left hand.  If your left leg is injured, hold the cane in your right hand.

Step 3:  Begin walking by taking a step forward on your injured leg and move the cane forward at the same time.  By doing this, you will put your weight on your cane and injured leg at the same time, allowing the cane to absorb more of the strain than the injured leg.  Do not use the cane to step with your good leg.

Walking up stairs with a cane:  Hold onto the railing with one hand and place your cane in the other hand.  Put the cane one step up.  Then, take the first step with your strong leg.  Bring the injured leg up to the same step.

Walking down stairs with a cane:  Hold onto the railing with one hand and place your cane in the other hand.  Put your cane on the step first, then your injured leg, and then your good leg, which will carry your body weight.


Whether you are currently using a cane or anticipate the need for using one, you might also plan on attending the regular Balance Class presented by the Wellness staff at Plymouth Harbor.

balance and wellness

Reference: American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  (2007).  How to use crutches, canes, and walkers.  OrthoInfo.  Reference (Photos): WikiHow. (2013). How to Hold and Use a Cane Correctly.

Change of routine alone can be difficult, and a major loss (such as the death of a spouse) can be crippling.   Everyone experiences such common life events, but there is no need to go through these challenging times alone.  That’s why Plymouth Harbor works with Vericare, a leading provider of comprehensive and integrative behavioral healthcare services.

Over the past five years, Vericare’s highly trained and compassionate clinical psychologists have helped Plymouth Harbor residents and staff through grief, caregiver stress, adjustment issues, as well as depression and anxiety.

Even when there is excitement and anticipation about moving into a new community such as ours, it is natural for new residents to navigate a period of adjustment and homesickness. Any of these experiences are also compounded when other issues are present, such as chronic health conditions, side effects from medications or a loss of physical independence.

One unique feature that Vericare offers our residents is a counseling “house call” that is covered by most insurance plans.  The psychologists can meet you “where you are” in your own comfortable and very private setting.   All residents, from independent living and assisted living to those in skilled nursing care are eligible for VeriCare services.  For more information on how they can help, call Brandi Burgess at 361-7379 or Liz Clark at 361-7245.

Balance is an extremely important part of wellness, especially in the senior population.  Seniors tend to have falls more frequently than the younger population because functions such as their reflexes, reaction time, muscle mass, and vision have changed. An alarming one third of seniors over the age of 65 fall each year and over half of seniors over the age of 80 fall each year2.  These shocking statistics could be lowered by practicing balance through exercise to decrease the chance of a fall.

Tai Chi Helps Reduce Falls in Senior PopulationAt Plymouth Harbor we offer two beneficial balance classes to help improve overall balance and reduce the risk of falling for our residents.  The two classes that we offer are Better Balance, which meets every Monday and Friday from 10:45-11:15 a.m. and Tai Chi, which meets every Thursday from 9:00-9:30 a.m.   Better Balance is a fall prevention class that combines static and dynamic balance exercises to improve coordination, posture, and balance. Tai Chi is a form of exercise that combines slow, controlled, meditative, standing movements that improve posture, coordinated movement, and balance.

A study performed in one senior living community looked at the benefits that Tai Chi had on its residents1.  There were 17 residents that participated in a 60 minute Tai Chi class 3 times a week for 12 weeks1.  All residents were 65 years of age or older, 7 residents used walkers and 10 residents used canes1.  The residents’ balance and strength were assessed one week before starting and one week after finishing the Tai Chi program by using four assessments.1

Results showed that the residents performed significantly better on the post test compared to the pre test, concluding that Tai Chi can increase a person’s balancing capability and decrease their risk of falling1.

Balance is an important skill to practice and it cannot be practiced enough.  All residents are welcome to join us in the group fitness room during Better Balance and Tai Chi to help improve their balance and minimize their risk of falling.

Reference List

1. Hao L, Connors M, Grando V, Liu H, Wedam L, Blake H. Tai Chi intervention for older adults using assistive devices in a senior living community…including commentary by Wedam LM and Blake H. International Journal Of Therapy & Rehabilitation [serial online]. March 2012;19(3):136-143. Available from: CINAHL Plus with Full Text, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 18, 2013.

2. PR N. Independent Living and Safety For Seniors – Guidebook Offered by American Senior Services, Inc.  PR Newswire US [serial online]. June 14, 2013: Available from: Points of View Reference Center, Ipswich, MA. Accessed June 19, 2013.