A couple of people who had started in wheelchairs can now push themselves up and use walkers.

A woman’s journal entries have blossomed from short matter-of-fact notes to long entries full of stories and memories. Another woman with memory problems has improved to the point that she left assisted living and is back living with her husband.

Much of the credit for these accomplishments is going to Vivid Living, a new program at the Lighthouse of Waconia, Minn., an assisted-living and memory-care community. The six-month-old program improves quality of life for people with cognitive impairment, said Cathy Menssen, who serves as the program’s “life engagement coach.”

Two of the women, for example, began the program appearing confused, she said. “They told the same stories over and over. They were withdrawn. They were maybe even a little teary, missing past family members, thinking more depressing thoughts, feeling more pain and fatigue, feeling less interest in the day.”

Now the two women are more active, social and seem happier. “You see this transformation happen,” Menssen said.

The Vivid Life program, designed by the Lighthouse staff, focuses on four separate, yet interconnected areas for improvement: mental exercise, physical exercise, nutrition education and social/spiritual activities, said John Murphy, director of training and development for Lighthouse Communities. Menssen provides coaching in each of these areas.

“People will say to me, ‘Isn’t this common sense?’ and I’ll say, ‘Well, how’s your common sense treating you so far?’” Murphy said. “Not to be mean or anything, but sometimes we all need a little nudge.”

The mental-exercise portion uses a computer program designed to sharpen both analytical skills as well as creative and emotional ones. Initially, only one member of the group had ever used a computer before; now they all do. “It’s a lot of fun for them,” Menssen said. “They feel really proud they’ve accomplished this.”

The physical exercise portion covers strength, balance and aerobic training. The nutrition portion provides education about healthy food choices. The social/spiritual part includes traditional religious activities such as Bible study and church services, as well as informal conversations in which people share thoughts and memories. They might, for example, talk about Thanksgivings of the past, about raising their children, about what it was like growing up on a farm.

“I think it gives them a sense of self, a sense of what they have done in their lives and how they have made a difference,” Menssen said. “We help them bring those memories back and validate them. I think some of those memories are tucked away, and you kind of pull those memories out as you get to know them.”

Murphy and Menssen said they’ve even changed their own habits as a result of seeing participants’ progress in Vivid Living.

“I’ve been adding more brain fitness, and adding more physical fitness to my life,” said Menssen, 52. “I feel much more balanced.”

Katy Read • 612-673-4583