By Jason Duarte
For The Sun
When Naperville resident Jim McArdle began having trouble with his usual crossword puzzles and became frustrated with them, he went to see a doctor.
The 81-year-old was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than a year ago.
Mary Ellen McArdle, 79, helps her husband, Jim McArdle, 81, do mental exercises on the Dakim Brain Fitness system at the McArdle's home Tuesday. Jim McArdle is a retired accountant who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than a year ago.
Last month, his son Jim E. McArdle of North Aurora entered a Father's Day online contest and won something that could help his father sort out life's other puzzles.
The system, called Dakim Brain Fitness, operates more like a game than a test, but tests both short- and long-term memory and operates in real time, adjusting the difficulty level based on each of the user's answers. The easy-to-use, touch-screen system aims to slow the advance of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. It hit the market in June.
The Dakim Brain Fitness System was created by inventor and CEO Dan Michel after he helped his father struggle through 13 years of Alzheimer's. During this time, Michel realized there is a therapeutic and emotional value in mental stimulation and came up with the system.
"It's based on standardized neurological tests," said Dakim representative Erika Schmit. "It tracks your success, and at the end of a session, you can see what your score is; long-term versus short-term."
As the elder McArdle answered the system's questions in his dining room, they would either get harder as he answered correctly, or easier if he answered incorrectly. This is what's known as "real time," Schmit said.
"It always gives positive reinforcement and tries to keep you going without getting discouraged," Schmit said. "It's like working out at a gym; if you work out once a month, you won't make any progress. The same idea is behind this."
"He's good with trivia and geography," the younger McArdle said.
His father admitted he lost a lot of recollection of older movies, but right away, he recognized comedian Jack Benny's face among other faces.
His wife, Mary Ellen McArdle, gave an instance of how the Dakim system can be challenging.
"It described a passage from a book; a descriptive passage and then came back and asked what color clothes the man had on," she said. "Pretty sneaky."
Mary Ellen said both she and her husband feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to use a machine like the Dakim Brain Fitness system. Between his medications and trying to keep physically active, they hope to keep ahead of Alzheimer's.
"Combining them all gets the maximum benefit," Schmit said.
Since its release, the Dakim Brain Fitness System has been implemented in 286 senior living communities. For home users, it is available at www.dakim.com for $2,399. Demos of the system are also on the site.