A Way of Life: Pursuing Senior Wellness

Baby Boomers – those 77 million babies born between 1946 and 1964 – have long grown up. And they aren’t going gently into their golden years. They’re demanding wellness as a way of life. To speak to the needs of this surging demographic, senior living communities are pursuing senior wellness programs that promote health, happiness, and whole-person development.

“Today’s seniors are more educated, more proactive, and more vocal than ever before,” says Callie Whitwell, chief operating officer, and founding partner at Lifetime Wellness. “They are clear in their expectations to live fully and age successfully.” Whitwell’s company provides person-centered wellness, life enrichment, and recreational programming to independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, and memory care facilities.

“No matter what age, mental state, or physical condition, everyone has the potential for wellness,” Whitwell says. “Wellness is more than the absence of illness or disease. It’s the pursuit of optimal health for the whole person – every moment of every day, in every part of life.”

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Considering the Six Dimensions of Wellness

In the Lifetime Wellness model, wellness includes six dimensions: physical, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, vocational, and social. “This model promotes healthy aging based on an integrated approach to living longer and healthier lives,” Whitwell says.

The six dimensions of wellness include:

  • Physical: Exercising regularly through such activities as brisk walking, fitness classes, and yoga and Tai Chi; eating nutritious meals and sleeping well
  • Emotional: Feeling positive and enthusiastic about life; coping with stress, depression, and life-changing events in productive ways through such programs as aromatherapy and Music & Memory
  • Spiritual: Growing in the quest for meaning and purpose in life, participating in daily devotions or meditation, and exploring and enjoying nature
  • Intellectual: Flexing the “mind muscle,” solving problems resourcefully, and enjoying lifelong learning
  • Vocational: Cultivating hobbies, learning new skills, and volunteering
  • Social: Building healthy relationships; finding opportunities to connect, socialize, and create community

“It’s like the spokes of a wheel,” Whitwell explains. “When one or more spokes is missing or falls short, it can throw off our balance. We need all six dimensions to keep our lives healthy and forward moving.”

Cultivating Health Literacy

 Key to a successful wellness program is helping to improve senior “health literacy” – the ability to understand health information and make the best health care decisions. Lifetime Wellness provides tools for seniors to follow their personal care plans and practice healthy behaviors. “We offer health education, typically led by a wellness specialist who provides easy steps residents can take to proactively monitor and enhance their health.”

The company also conducts wellness campaigns throughout the year to help raise awareness of health challenges, from preventing falls to combatting inactivity and making healthy food choices.

Calculating the Return on Investment

A wellness program benefits residents and senior living providers alike. For residents, it can lead to increased independence, reduced medications, and fewer hospital visits. For senior living providers, it can yield greater resident satisfaction and influence occupancy by promoting enhanced services through intentional marketing.

Often a wellness program is a key differentiator for seniors and families in choosing a living community. “Beyond providing quality care and comfortable living accommodations, a facility that offers the right mix of engaging programs to support healthy living is clearly the best choice overall,” Whitwell says.

“Simply stated, providing a quality wellness program is the right thing to do. Yet administrators and directors of nursing have so many demands on them that this goal may fall down the priority ladder. Many communities are opting to outsource all or a part of their wellness program to a company like ours. It may require more of an investment than a traditional activity program, but the cost is rapidly offset by the exceptional program results.”

Customizing the Program

“We work with senior living providers to transform their facilities into communities of wellness,” Whitwell says. “Programs are custom-tailored to the provider’s collective mission and to the residents’ individual needs.”

The Lifetime Wellness team gets to know each resident in-depth– and often takes a creative approach to developing personal programs. For example, Whitwell tells the story of a resident with Parkinson’s disease who needed help in improving his muscle function. But he repeatedly refused physical and occupational therapy. When the care team discovered that he loved music, they sent in a musical therapist who went on to build a trusting relationship with the resident and ultimately provided co-treatment with the other therapists.

“Music became a template for organizing the resident’s movements and increasing his motivation. Eventually, he could dress himself each morning, and he became more communicative. When we’re intentional in helping others reach their potential – through whatever avenue works best for them – we can realize outstanding outcomes.”