Stanbridge College OTA Student Helps Seniors with Dementia Practice Beach Yoga

Bert Vanderlans, OTAFT011, a Stanbridge College Occupational Therapy student, was recently featured in an OC Register article on the Beach Yoga classes. He came to Silverado for his clinicals and found himself taking part in something extraordinary.

Wednesday mornings at Doheney Beach, residents of Silverado, a memory-care community in San Juan Capistrano, gather on the sand for a yoga class. They breathe, stretch and meditate, taking care to focus and relax as much as possible. The group is made up of senior citizens who are living with either Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

The yoga classes are part of a program called Nexus at Silverado, designed to help residents in early stages of dementia maintain greater cognitive activity. Research indicates that regular engagement in physical and mental activities has the potential to delay the onset of dementia and slow its progression.

SC: How did you get involved with the Beach Yoga for Alzheimer’s patients at Silverado?

BV: I was on my 1st Level Clinical for the OTA program, where I was assigned to Silverado Memory Care in San Juan Capistrano. I was chosen by Activities Coordinator Linda Szemenyei to go with her and several of the residents to the beach for the yoga lesson. We were told before we started our clinical that Silverado does this activity weekly.  I went with Linda to the beach and was happy to help with the yoga.

SC: How does yoga help seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia?

BV: Yoga works not only the body but also the mind. Meditation teaches the brain to relax and stimulates it at the same time. Yoga also helps enhance the resident’s quality of life. Their minds may have impairments, but their bodies can still do a great deal. And best of all, you’re on the beach, which is such a relaxing environment. There may not be a cure for Alzheimer’s, but yoga helps slow the progression.

SC: What do you like about working with this particular population?

BV: They are so funny! There have been many times while I did my clinicals there that the residents could make me laugh during our activities together. And being with this population they have so many memories. Despite what may alter their memories, they have so many other memories of past times and its always interesting to hear how some things were in the past. Many of the residents have amazing background stories, and it’s always great to listen to them. Especially at the beach, they loved telling me about how it used to be and what they did there.

SC: How do you apply your OTA training to an activity like this?

BV: I applied joint mobilization to the activities. I needed to know what muscles were being innervated. Yoga helps to keep muscles from contracting and working the extensors of our muscles keeps us from contracting and locking up muscles. Some residents at Silverado have tight hip muscles. Using joint mobilization to work the muscles around the joint helped relax and eventually achieve what the Yoga instructor was trying to do.

To learn more about the Stanbridge College Occupational Therapy Assistant program, please visit