CANTON — At Orchard Cove, the residents are into fitness. Nearly three-quarters of them take aerobic classes, lift weights, or practice yoga and balance techniques. These seniors exercise to feel good and, in many cases, to fulfill loftier goals.
A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Sylvia Namyet, 88, supplemented her regular yoga practice with new routines to help her balance. Her long-term goal involved making a solo cross-country trip to visit adult children in Oregon and California. After a year of physical conditioning, she finally did it last year, the first time she had traveled alone in 45 years.
A year ago, Natalie Waterman, 86, started exercising on a daily basis. She dropped more than 30 pounds, putting an end to years of immobility and isolation following a hip injury at 81. Today Waterman favors New Balance sneakers and exercise classes that fit her busy schedule. She has become a socialite within the community, and she rarely spends a day alone.
These active residents are taking part in a pilot wellness program called Vitality 360, which uses computerized tools to evaluate and track the physical, emotional, and mental health of seniors, and helps them meet individual goals with personal coaching and follow-up. The information collected is contributed to a national database of research.
Vitality 360 is part of an ambitious project called Collage, which was created in 2003 as a joint venture between Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research, a nonprofit affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and Kendal Outreach, a nonprofit arm of the Kendal Corp., a system of services and communities for older adults in eight states. Collage has been developing a suite of assessment tools and programs, such as Vitality 360, to optimize well-being for older adults.
With people living longer and elder housing providers looking to improve their offerings to seniors seeking active lives, Vitality 360 gives Orchard Cove an edge among assisted-living communities because it offers data, via Collage, that proves the goal-setting program improves health and life satisfaction among residents — a real selling point as well as an innovative concept.
The aim is to change the way we think about aging, said John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research. Collage has gathered health and wellness profiles on more than 10,000 adults 65 and older at 60 retirement communities and aging housing locations in 20 states, he said.
At Orchard Cove, seniors are more upbeat, active, and happier with life after embracing fitness and other challenging goals as participants in Vitality 360, which is in keeping with national data, according to Morris. He said the data show that people are more positive and their lives are better when they set goals and those goals are reinforced.
“This is a revolutionary concept. It is about reaching out to healthy elders and asking, ‘How can we go forward in a way that might work differently?’” he said.
Aline Russotto, executive director of Orchard Cove, a Hebrew SeniorLife community, said it has been exciting to track the health and wellness benefits for seniors participating in Vitality 360.
“We are seeing a tremendous increase in our fitness programs because seniors want to possess the physical capacity to do the things they care about,” she said.
Ninety percent of Orchard Cove’s 240 residents have joined Vitality 360, and the number of residents exercising has climbed from 30 percent to more than 75 percent since the pilot program’s launch at the site three years ago, Russotto said.
Other Hebrew SeniorLife communities are adopting Vitality 360, including Center Communities of Brookline, NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, and the Jack Satter House in Revere. The program is also operating at Kendal at Hanover, N.H., a retirement community located near Dartmouth College.
“We can think of aging in a different way. The population is getting older and people are more active later; why not help them to see themselves as vital?” said Mindy Gradofsky-Gilmore, a social worker at Orchard Cove.
“Our program is raising the bar for seniors,” Russotto said. “At this stage in life, seniors are dealing with loss — loss of role, loss of family, loss of friends, loss of spouse. We help to empower them again. We focus on what they can still do. They can still have goals. It is not just about what happened in their lives but what will happen, and how they can direct that.”Continued...