Summary: The Serper Method™ is a cognitive stimulation program that emphasizes personal and cultural information, along with social and conversational skills. Although more testing is needed, anecdotal reports and results of a small pilot program are encouraging.
Dr. Lynn Serper, a teacher for children with learning disabilities, was in her late 40s when she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, then a stroke and fell into a coma. When she awoke, she couldn’t talk, read, write or think clearly.
Ignoring her doctors’ pessimism about her condition, she decided to put together a recovery program for herself based on exercises she had developed for the classroom. “If children with learning disabilities could learn from my methods, why couldn’t I?” she says.
She attributes her eventual recovery to her program, which combined reading exercises with information about history, geography and current events. After working through the program for six years, she was able to complete a dissertation, and earned a doctorate in Cognitive Education.
During her recovery, she refined the exercises to develop The Serper Method, a cognitive stimulation program for people with dementia, aphasia [loss of ability to speak or understand speech] and traumatic brain injury. In her book, Brainstorming : The Serper Method of Brain Recovery, Regrowth, and Vitality, Dr. Serper tells the story of her illness and recovery, and how she developed her program. She has also published a series of workbooks which can be used by individuals, or in group or private sessions led by someone trained in the The Serper Method.
A Different Approach to Cognitive Stimulation
Because of Dr. Serper’s background, The Serper Method emphasizes personal and cultural information, as well as social and conversational skills.
From her experience as a teacher, Dr. Serper knew that children seemed to learn more when the learning process was related to their culture and their interests. And in her opinion, as her students learned more, their self-esteem and socialization skills increased.
She applied the same concepts when developing her workbooks. “The stories in the workbooks are true and inspirational,” she says. “The history is drawn from the American experience, often within the lifetime of the learner, and geography is based upon location, facts and tales from the different regions of the United States. In this re-learning, individuals have an opportunity to gather information for conversations based on memories and experiences.”
Comparing her method to other cognitive stimulation programs, Dr. Serper says she thinks “both methods effectively offer individuals ways to strengthen brain function, though by different means. The Serper Method adds a focus on conversation and social interaction. In a perfect world, persons would have the opportunity to take part in both programs.”
Through her company Brain Enhancement Services, Inc., Dr. Serper provides consulting and training services based on her method. She reports that she has been able to stabilize the cognitive abilities of persons with dementia and that two community programs using her method have shown encouraging results, either improving/stabilizing cognitive abilities or increasing socialization.
In addition, Boston University Researchers conducted a six month pilot program to test whether The Serper Method could improve memory and cognitive and social functioning for persons with early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. According to Dr. Serper, focus groups and questionnaires showed that participation improved self-image, conversation, socialization and interest in daily experiences. However, standard neuropsychological tests did not show improved scores for participants. More testing with a larger group is needed to confirm these results.
“Following my stroke,” Dr. Serper says, “I found that losing access to factual information of the past limited my ability to understand the information of each present day. Reading the newspaper was confusing since I had limited information of past events and struggled with concepts and understanding. It was amazing to me how much of what we all know and learn is based upon the foundations and building blocks that were learned in the past. I felt like all the knowledge and categorization of that knowledge was no longer available to me.” She focused on the foundations she felt she couldn’t access – history and geography – when developing her workbook series.
“The workbooks contain predominantly frustration-free activities,” she says, “with lots of repetition, or memory stimulation, in the form of puzzles, brain twisters and a reference or clue system for answering questions. The goal is exercising different segments of the brain.”
Can persons with early-stage dementia get results by going through the workbook exercises on their own? “I believe that most persons with MCI [Mild Cognitive Impairment] or early-stage dementia will need to be taught how to use The Serper Method over a period of a month or two,” she says. “Individuals with mid-stage dementia will need the assistance of a Cognitive Educator [her trademarked term for someone trained to guide learning sessions based on her method]. Family members can also be trained to guide, if they would like.” CD recordings of the workbooks are available for those with visual, reading or speech limitations.
Whether or not a person with dementia is using her method, Dr. Serper has some advice for them. “Individuals and families should know that learning and socialization does not end with a diagnosis,” she says. “As long as there are healthy brain cells there is hope for enjoying life experiences and increasing life’s vigor and possibilities.“