Not long ago, as a new member of the local YMCA, I got an informal tour of the facility's new exercise room, courtesy of my daughter-in-law, a fitness instructor. As she led me from one “miracle machine” to another, I flashed back to my bouts decades ago with the clanking “universal gym.” Today's gym, for those (probably few) of you who don't know, has sleek, beautifully designed machines not only dedicated to specific muscle groups, but completely computer programmable to customize your personal exercise experience—and, I believe, serve you a low-calorie lunch on demand. During my tour, I saw several middle-aged adults plodding, from a walk to a fast run, on treadmills, arduously pumping away on stationary bikes, and strenuously lifting (strangely nonmechanical) free weights, their biceps bulging and abs rippling.
Thanking my “tour guide,” I shyly turned away and began to profoundly rethink things. This is one former “gym rat” who needs a bit more time getting used to the exotic new world of exercise technology.
So you can imagine my shock as I read, in an article in this issue (“Holistic health: Bringing wellness to elders,” p. 26) this amazing statistic: According to Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, which houses the wellness facility described, 65% of skilled nursing residents (including those with dementia) and nearly half of assisted living residents participate in its programs. “These statistics,” notes the author, Maureen Pearson, “mirror or are higher than usage statistics of residents in VMRC's four independent living communities.”
Then there's another article in this issue's Environments for Aging section, where we find an interview by Executive Editor Maureen Hrehocik of Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. This highly active and visible organization is at the center of the growing movement toward senior wellness. But, says Milner, “The (LTC) industry is going to have to go beyond ‘wellness’ into ‘engagement,’ to go beyond providing services to providing experiences.”
What on earth is going on here? What happened to those nursing home “geriatric parking lots,” with residents slumped in wheelchairs or stretched out in geri-chairs all up and down the corridors? Has this “popular” image faded from view?
Well, in all honesty, nursing homes still house and serve desperately ill and disabled seniors (and others), today more intensely than ever. But when they can, in whatever setting you can name, facility operators are increasingly reaching out to stimulate residents to their maximum possible level of independence, both physically and mentally, with new programs, equipment, and facilities. Yes, the old “lying-in hospitals” are still there, but the people who run them are doing their darnedest to transform them to the extent possible. They know that this is what the market, most notably the fast-growing Baby Boomer market, is demanding, both for their parents and, ultimately, for themselves.
“Wellness Center” is not just an interesting label to hang on a medical clinic anymore. The various articles in this issue addressing that topic will show you why and, even better, what you can do about it.
RICHARD L. PECK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
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