Aging Gracefully

Engaging seniors in building a health-and-wellness plan

By Laci McKinney

Many senior citizens set resolutions regarding health and wellness, only to revert to their previous routines midway through the year. A sedentary lifestyle is harmful to all ages, especially older adults. Just becoming socially active adds to the quality of life, and allows older individuals to remain independent longer. Not only is the physical aspect important, but other components should be incorporated as well, such as social, environmental, and educational, In order to meet patrons’ needs, senior centers must be more than a place to sip coffee, read the paper, or have a friendly game of cards. Centers need to create a healthy environment that supports aging gracefully.

Find A Purpose

To give a program substance and credibility, begin with a purpose. Decide what you are trying to accomplish. Form an advisory committee, or use members from a previous committee. Brainstorming ideas will help benchmark a program as it grows. If a staff or advisory committee isn't equipped with a health-and-wellness professional, consult an expert before implementing a program.

Dream Up A Theme

Next, develop a theme. Although a theme helps maintain commonality throughout a program’s life, it should be modified each year to keep the program fresh. Get creative during the planning process and engage members. Allow members to present different theme ideas, and then let them select their favorite.

Include social, environmental, and spiritual components:

  • The social component is very important to older adults, for some have lost spouses and find this time quite valuable to engage with others. Use holidays or seasons to create social events, such as a luau or a Fourth of July barbeque.

  • To incorporate an environmental component, start a recycling program.

  • Create a team of volunteer Wellness Ambassadors as a spiritual component.

While one senior may gravitate toward the physical aspects of a program, such as exercising, others may find interest in an educational component. Many organizations--such as local hospitals--offer educational presentations free of charge. Topics such as nutrition, the importance of physical activity, and disease management can be presented by a community-outreach department.

Offer Incentives

Adding simple and non-monetary incentives to a program can energize participants Partnering with other organizations can have a two-fold purpose: providing a center with a sponsor and the organization with potential clients. Have participation drawings, give certificates for a top performance, and reach out to sponsors to host challenge dinners. Staff members can be engaged in the planning process to give insight on what will work, or to offer suggestions to boost the popularity of the program.

Create A Buzz

Now it is time to create a buzz by reaching out to local newspapers. Many departments utilize the community’s information officer or marketing department to use the city’s website, water bill inserts, or local cable channel. Post flyers around the center, at the library and city hall, and send email blasts about upcoming programs. A social medium like Facebook is a growing interest among older adults, and a great way to reach a large number of people in a short period of time. Don’t forget to post the results of each program in the local paper; people love to see their name next to a great accomplishment.

Ask For Feedback

The program will evolve over time, and can be as flexible as you wish to make it. Make room for new ideas presented by staff members and program participants. Hosting quarterly meetings helps to receive positive feedback and affirm that the program is accomplishing its goals. Reach out to participants for testimonials; you will be surprised how the program will affect individuals. Although a health-and-wellness plan is valuable, the investment is minimal. Volunteers can create and assist in carrying out the program. Reach out to local organizations to provide educational opportunities as well as sponsorships. Lastly, engage staff members--their buying into the program is the key to its success.

Laci McKinney is the manager of the Senior and Community Center for the city of Coppell Parks and Recreation in Texas. Reach her via email at .


A Step In The Right Direction

Physical challenges are very popular for those with a competitive spirit. Try the 10,000 Steps-A-Day Challenge, to be completed over one month. Participants are asked to wear a pedometer morning,noon, and night and anytime they are engaging in physical activity, such as walking, gardening, grocery shopping, or Wii Bowling. The goal is to achieve 10,000 steps a day, believed to burn between 2,000 and 3,500 extra calories a week. This challenge encourages all to be more physically active and can occur inside or outside of a gym.