BRiTE (Brain Training and Exercise) Wellness has focused on helping seniors in the Pittsburgh region boost their brain function since 2016. The innovative program was founded by a group of like-minded researchers who noticed a distinct gap in services for seniors in the early stages of memory loss. Plenty of programs existed for those already experiencing the later and more devastating effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, resources were lacking for seniors intent on preserving their mental fitness.
To this end, BRiTE Wellness began offering in-person classes three times each week, during which participants could choose from options in creative arts, music, and physical education/activity. During the pandemic, however, everything switched to a virtual format out of necessity. While things are slowly returning to normal, the virtual switch provided the BRiTE Wellness team with insight into ways that they could improve their programming. A hybrid model of in-person and virtual classes was offered in 2021 and part of 2022 and was well-received by members.
Now, the nonprofit dedicated to mild memory issues is expanding its offerings in a bid to extend its reach. They will be achieving their new goal with the help of a brand new website designed to accommodate on-demand programming that members can access from virtually anywhere.
“As BRiTE changed and evolved to become a hybrid program, we had to evolve and change, too,” said Executive Director Paul McComb. “Now, we have no walls or borders or barriers. We needed to expand our website to reflect that change.”
The new website will launch at the end of July. It will offer a direct link to classes that are held Monday, Wednesday and Friday and includes a mix of music, fitness, and creative expression. There are nine total classes each week if members attend them all.
“We encourage our members to attend as many sessions as possible in order to maximize the benefits of the program,” said McComb.
The BRiTE Wellness website will also include an on-demand feature that members can use for the classes of their choice anytime, anywhere. Class offerings in the on-demand section will be filmed during live sessions and will be made available on the website afterward.
“With our on-demand component, you’ll never miss a class,” said McComb. “We’re knocking down barriers.”
Leigh Ann Hillegas, BRiTE Wellness membership director, said that she’s excited about the changes and what they mean for reaching more seniors—and their caregivers—who need the services.
“It’s a totally, totally different format than when we were in person. Members used to rotate between classes that were being offered based on a schedule,” she explained.
Now, members can attend in groups at BRiTE Wellness Centers or from home. In either case, members will be able to view the classes multiple times with the on-demand feature, and can experience it in any order with on-demand. All that’s needed to access the on-demand classes is a stable Internet connection and a computer or mobile device like a tablet.
“Although the classes are offered on a fixed schedule, you’re not tied down with a membership that forces you to be there during a set day or time,” Hillegas said. “You can log in from anywhere when it’s convenient for you. We can connect with so many more people now with the on-demand feature.”
Seniors without computers or mobile devices have the option of borrowing a Kindle or other tablet from local libraries that lend them. Hillegas said that it’s a great way to test out the on-demand feature before buying your own device to use.
Another change coming with the new website and on-demand programming is a new collaboration with the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, said McComb. Not only has BRiTE Wellness opened a BRiTE Center at the Y, through the generosity of the Jack Buncher Foundation, but it has also established the Y location as its broadcast studio with the support of the Pittsburgh Foundation. Instructors use the Y’s on-site production studio to produce top-quality programming for their classes that members can enjoy at either a BRiTE Center, or from home.
Hillegas said she’s looking forward to the advantages of using the YMCA’s studio space for filming the classes she teaches. Her students can see her fully during instruction with professionals running the show, versus her trying to record it herself with limited equipment in her own home. “The quality of the sessions will improve significantly,” she said.
In addition to having a dedicated studio space for streaming and recording programing, McComb said that the new studio allows BRiTE Wellness to offer more advanced sessions for members who have requested them. Advanced levels of some art and exercise classes can now be recorded and made available through the on-demand option.
“Before, I doubt we would have had enough in-person attendees to make it feasible to have different skill levels for things like yoga,” he said. “Now, we can make those available on-demand and members who enjoy challenging themselves have the option to do so.”
Membership options have also expanded, along with the new website and on-demand programming. Individual memberships have different tiers, and seniors can choose the option that works best for their needs. Pricing is based on the tier selected.
While insurance plans do not cover the cost of programming currently, Hillegas said that it’s something the BRiTE Wellness team hopes to change in the future. For now, there are options for those who need financial assistance. “We have a scholarship program for individual memberships,” she said. “No one is ever turned away for the inability to pay.”
Facility memberships are also available. Retirement communities, nursing homes, and other senior care facilities now have the option of buying a facility membership so they can provide BRiTE Wellness programming to their residents. This is a new feature, with pricing specific to the size and scope of services requested. Any facility interested in learning more can reach out to Hillegas to discuss options.
To learn more about the BRiTE Wellness program or inquire about membership options, call 412-404-2405 or visit their new website at www.BRiTEwellness.org.