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What providers are doing about Wellness

February 1, 2007
by Michael Peltier, Assistant Editor
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As continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) strive to incorporate whole-person wellness programs into their campus cultures, a recent national survey asked participants to gauge their level of success. The National Whole-Person Wellness Survey is an interdisciplinary effort to identify the effects of wellness programs on residents. “A major goal for the survey was to assess how CCRCs are incorporating the elements of whole-person wellness from a philosophical, staffing, programmatic, physical, and financial standpoint,” says Perry Edelman, director of Outcomes Research at Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging and the survey's principal investigator.

The National Whole-Person Wellness Survey, sponsored by Mather LifeWays, architectural firm Dorsky Hodgson Parrish Yue, and Ziegler Capital Markets Group, was completed by 61 presidents, CEOs, executive directors, and wellness program directors of CCRCs, as well as representatives of 11 active adult communities (AACs). Survey investigators identified participants through an existing database, e-newsletter promotion, and personal contacts. “This survey really represents a slice of the industry today, creating a baseline for evidence-based designs in the future,” notes Cornelia Hodgson, head of Dorsky Hodgson Parrish Yue's Senior Living Studio and a coprincipal investigator on the survey. The final report will be released on March 7 to coincide with the American Society of Aging and National Council on Aging conference in Chicago.
The chef's dining room at Friendship Village of Schaumburg

The cafe at Sunset Village in Jenison, Michigan

The cafe at Sunset Village in Jenison, Michigan

Addressing Aspects of Wellness

All the participants accept the philosophy of wellness as a lifestyle, not just an exercise program. Whole-person wellness programs “promote successful living through the six dimensions of wellness,” note the survey authors. The six wellness dimensions are:

  • Physical

  • Social

  • Emotional

  • Spiritual

  • Intellectual

  • Vocational

Respondents reported that the most opportunities for residents to achieve wellness existed in the social, physical, and spiritual dimensions. “The emotional and vocational dimensions had provided the fewest opportunities, which was not surprising,” Edelman says, “but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they were also the areas in which respondents expected the greatest increase in opportunities in the future.” Support groups—including caregiver support groups and grief support groups—are a popular activity component within the emotional dimension. Respondents also noted the importance of counseling programs—either peer counseling or staff counseling. Vocational opportunities mentioned include volunteer activities and resident committee participation, as well as computer access and computer classes.

Measuring Success

Facilities measured success in a variety of ways. To assess their wellness programs, more than half of respondents indicated they used the following methods:

  • Resident satisfaction questionnaires

  • Records of program participation/attendance

  • Health screening (e.g., blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density)

  • Resident committee feedback

  • Physical fitness assessment (flexibility, strength, endurance, body composition)

  • A suggestion box

Respondents assessed the impact of wellness programs on residents using a 7-point scale (1 = none or no impact, and 7 = a great deal of impact). The greatest areas of resident impact were on regular exercise, participation in meaningful activities, socializing with others, and overall quality of life. “It's a progressive concept for communities to be embracing wellness rather than illness,” Hodgson explains. “People are more satisfied with a community that supports residents making decisions themselves through whole-person wellness.”

When asked about the importance of wellness programs to residents’ satisfaction, 88% of respondents rated the programs at five or better; 72% gave a score of five or better regarding the importance of wellness programs to family members’ satisfaction. “The survey indicates that the inclusion of a wellness program does in fact elevate the reputation of your community by the residents, as well as family members,” Hodgson says. Edelman adds, “It's probably easier for the respondents to estimate resident satisfaction because they're around the residents and may have limited contact with family members.” In any event, he stresses that the respondents estimated a high level of satisfaction for both groups.

Respondents also noted the five most essential factors for a successful wellness program—in order: organizational commitment (74%), trained/experienced staff (61%), programs appropriate to resident abilities (56%), variety of programs/activities (56%), and financial resources (51%).

Designing for Wellness

A juice bar at The Weils of Bainbridge in Bainbridge, Ohio