Susan Louer is interested in brain health. “We run, we take exercise classes, we count the steps we take each day: we know how to keep our bodies well-oiled to help prevent physical decline,” she says. “But what are we doing about brain health? In particular, how can we slow the loss of short-term memory?
Susan has been following research into brain health for many years. “Now, interest in this field is growing by leaps and bounds, in part because of the huge medical and social cost of dementia,” Susan says. “We all worry that this is going to affect us personally in some way.”
Susan’s career has been spent mostly teaching the deaf . “Unfortunately, there were many deaf education job openings at schools in the 1970s. A significant number of babies born to immigrant women back then had hearing problems,” she said. (Most people in the U.S. and western countries are vaccinated at an early age against mumps, whooping cough and rubella, also known as German measles. If a woman has not been vaccinated and is exposed to rubella for the first time early in her pregnancy, her baby may be born with significant defects, including deafness.) Nowadays, the deaf are somewhat less dependent on sign language because they can use computers and cell phones to communicate, Susan explained.
Before the pandemic, Susan was teaching memory-related classes to retired members of the United Federation of Teachers, using a lot of hand-out materials. “But the classes were difficult to adapt to Zoom,” she said.
Then, through the Village-to-Village Network, the parent organization of Good Neighbors which sponsors an annual conference, she heard about a new program, Stronger Memory, designed to help keep people’s minds sharp as they age. It was developed by Goodwin Living, a continuing care community in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland areas. Through reading aloud, writing from prompts by hand in cursive and doing some simple math problems, the program stimulates the part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, that helps retrieve short term memories. Susan volunteered to train as a facilitator for the program.
“I’m both a coach and a cheerleader,” she says. “I meet with the people who sign up, listen to their problems and encourage them to continue. As with any exercise program, no matter how simple, people drop out, have problems fitting it into their weekly routines, wonder whether they’re making progress or when they’ll see results.” It’s a lifetime commitment, but you don’t have to work on it every day, or devote endless time to it, Susan notes. “After people become comfortable with it, they begin to notice some improvement in their memory and their focus.”
And, like a physical exercise regimen, when they get to the end of the math, they simply start the exercises all over again. The next 12-week program starts in March.
One of Susan’s many other interests is genealogy. Through intensive research, she has discovered that her ancestors on her father’s side came to this country in the 1600s, that one member in Connecticut was accused of being a witch but was finally acquitted, and that she is distantly related to Oliver Cromwell, the English politician who spearheaded the drive to execute King Charles l in 1649. She’s also a fan of British and international mystery shows.
Susan is married to Jules Trachten, also a Good Neighbor, who leads the Shakespeare study group. They have 5 children and 12 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild, enough to keep anyone’s short term memory stimulated.