At the beginning we just wanted to provide a dignified life to our low-income seniors. We had seen what isolation and neglect was doing to seniors living in public housing. Most of them had given up on life and were just waiting for the day that they would leave their sorrowful living conditions. Our first impulse was to provide them with a clean, comfortable apartment and the services that would allow them to keep living with decency. After we experienced how their lives changed by having good meals, a little help in getting out of bed and bathing, the opportunity to be with others and having the right medication at the right time, we realized that there was much more we could do. What about if we improve their life expectancy, help them avoid hospitalization, prevent them from falling down, make them more alert so they can enjoy this stage of life.
At first most were reluctant to engage in any kind of physical activity. After all, most had never done much exercise in the past and exercising was not an acceptable behavior from elderly individuals. Changing their mind-set was sometimes a struggle, a change of routine from one of complete inertia to one where they have to exert themselves. So we started with a very small group of “willing victims” that were willing to perform stretching exercises. We used music and dancing to entice them. Some were embarrassed at the beginning but later it became their morning routine. Little by little others, watching from afar, joined the group. After all, it seemed that those willing to go along were having fun and socializing with those next to them. The group grew from a handful to over fifty and from that moment they were not willing to live without the exercises. We became more innovative with our program, offering dancing classes, yoga, music classes, fitness programs, personal trainers, aquatic courses and gardening.
The clients were having fun but that was not all. Those who regularly engaged in these activities saw great improvements in cognitive and physical health, fewer trips to the emergency room, less need for medication, 50% less daily bathroom trips, a decrease in back and muscle pain and dramatic decrease in nursing home care. They also experienced less anxiety and agitation, using their energy in a positive way. Another side effect was an increase in socialization with the staff and the residents.
The beneficial results of exercising have been well-recognized, not only for aging individuals but for people of all ages. Recent reports on wellness programs collaborate what we found happening among our clients, improved health, less hospitalization, increased alertness and feeling of wellness and increased socialization among clients.
The moral of the story: if you give seniors a chance to change their lifestyles, after some reluctance they will experience, on their own, a sense of wellness and optimism. But this is not all, by changing lifestyles and improving health, everyone wins. Healthcare costs go down, costs to families are reduced and turnover at the facility goes down.