Integrating exercise into senior residents’ wellness regimens is nothing new, but providers are finding new ways to maintain residents’ health and drive better health outcomes through wellness.
At the center of many of those efforts are the goals residents set for themselves, according to Jolene Moore, chief operating officer of Pathway to Living.
“There’s a difference to each person’s well-being,” Moore said during a panel discussion at Senior Housing News’ DISHED/WELLNESS event in Orlando. “The trend is… to find out what residents’ goals are and inspire them, empowering them to help them own their health journey.”
Instead of just walking treadmills or pedaling stationary bikes, senior residents in 2022 will also play cornhole, use golf simulators and compete in pickleball matches to stay active. And that’s by design, as many senior housing operators introduce new resident-focused fitness models.
Texas-based Buckner Retirement Services, part of Buckner International, is embracing technology to promote health and wellness through exercise. The operator’s communities include the award-winning Ventana by Buckner CCRC in Dallas, which is collaborating with fitness pioneer Cooper Aerobics to keep residents healthy, among other efforts.
Now, residents are arriving in the Buckner’s Ventana community at an average age of 70, which Director of Operations Chuck Childress called a “pretty extraordinary” accomplishment. Those residents are also much more interested in their health and well-being than previous generations, so much so that Childress believes they will usher in a transformational change regarding the fitness and well-being of older people’s lives.
“I see them as the benchmark for things to come as the new generation begins to pass through our communities,” he said during the DISHED/WELLNESS panel. “There really is a focus on prevention, and residents are very interested in finding ways to prevent their own health from deteriorating.”
A new chapter for fitness and nutrition
It’s no secret that the next generation of senior residents is bringing with them new desires and preferences, with wellness and fitness a higher priority than those who came before them.
That’s part of why Buckner forged his flagship fitness program at Ventana with Cooper Aerobics, which has helped pioneer fitness trends for the last 50 years. Under the partnership, Cooper provides two full-time fitness staff members to provide personal training for residents. The organization also helps with welfare services.
Childress said the partnership was “a no-brainer” given that both organizations prioritize health and wellness.
“It was just a natural partnership for us to connect with them and bring them on board to run our fitness and wellness program,” he said.
Ventana residents aren’t just interested in fitness, they’re also interested in nutrition and the relationship between food, health and wellness, Childress added. On the culinary side, Buckner partners with foodservice management company Thomas Cuisine, as well as Cooper dietitians who provide personalized dietary advice.
The company also works with Dallas-based celebrity chef and restaurateur Stephan Pyles, who conceptualized the community’s dining spaces.
“We’ve done things like cooking demonstrations where residents walk away with a little basket of groceries, which they’re going to take home to make that dish that they saw that day,” Childress said. “This generated a lot of interest.”
Buckner also designs its fitness areas specifically to support residents’ health, according to Childress. She added that developers and operators need to work together to have “purposeful strategic planning” behind the design of fitness spaces.
“I think being really intentional about what we’re doing as we build something new, or as we renovate existing communities with fitness spaces, design it well for the future of seniors,” Childress said.
Of course, the fitness and health of residents goes beyond nutrition and exercise classes, Moore said. Residents want a focus on “whole person wellness, not just fitness,” she said.
“I think the trends are going to be the rest of those components: the mind, body, spirit and engagement of our residents,” Moore said. “The trend is for the most educated staff to do really meaningful and quality programming.”
Make fitness accessible
Fitness goals are different for each resident. While some residents are looking to improve their golf game or run a better mile, others simply want to be mobile enough to ride the bus or walk a grandchild down the aisle at a wedding. .
Giving residents the ability to set their own fitness goals helps them shop for their own health. But to set and compare goals, senior housing operators need data, according to Moore. That’s where technology comes in.
“People are going to want and demand tech-inspired fitness programs,” Moore said. The whole person wellness program is the future, not just the fitness component.”
Cooper runs a proprietary system that collects biometric data for use in health assessments, from strength training to gait speed.
“Integration is very important to be able to take all this data that we have and use it to help our residents. If we can’t use it to help the older resident, all is lost.”
Buckner also uses Wexer’s virtual fitness offering. giving residents access to hundreds of programs that they can customize based on their own fitness and comfort level.
In the near future, Childress said the Cooper Institute plans to integrate health coaching into residents’ wellness programming, with medical directors and care staff helping to educate residents about how and why their health matters.
Pathway currently has a partnership with a value-based provider offering a health coach, which has directly resulted in positive outcomes for residents, Moore said. Having a health coach has helped care staff spot residents’ health issues and allows them to be proactive.
“It really gives us the ability to help our residents live longer and better on site,” added Moore.
At the core of Buckner and Pathway’s fitness programs is accessibility. After all, residents can’t take care of their own well-being if the activities they have to do are too hard or uninteresting.
Learning about residents and what inspires them could help start a fitness journey for a resident who may not be inclined toward typical exercise. For example, Moore has been very successful in getting residents to play the corn game in the garden. The goal is to engage residents in activities that excite and engage them, and “know where they are at,” Moore said.
“We believe that they need less and less fitness, when it is exactly the opposite:. They need to get fitter more and more,” she said.[But this is] not fitness, it’s fun and get them moving.”
For Buckner residents living with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia, the operator has had success with music therapy, dancing, chair exercises and easy aerobics.
In the past, Moore has promoted a variety of sports for memory care residents, including basketball, golf and walking. Healthy competition can also help motivate residents.
“The bottom line is: We need to empower our residents. We need to teach them that they can own their home,” Moore said. “They can affect how they are going to live the rest of their life.”