More life in their years

It’s no secret we’re living longer these days. Medical science has made advances that have improved overall health, quality of life, and longevity for countless people. Massive information campaigns and legislation have created both behavioral and environmental changes that can be credited with stretching life expectancy. Our air and water are cleaner. Fewer people are smoking or exposed to secondhand smoke. More people are in the habit of wearing seatbelts.

Approximately 80,000 people who have reached or surpassed the age of 100 live in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, that number is expected to jump to 580,000 by 2040. Still, it’s not every day you meet a half dozen people, 100 years old or older, residing under the same roof. But hitting the century mark was becoming such a regular occurrence among residents at Penacook Place Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Haverhill, Massachusetts, that a couple of years ago the staff began an annual celebration to honor their centenarians.

Beth Torla, a rehabilitative technician, says that the idea to have a party for centenarians came after conducting a survey to find Penacook’s oldest resident. “I’ve worked here for 10 years and I can’t ever remember having so many residents at the same time who were 100 years old or older,” she says. This year, Penacook celebrated the birthdays of five residents who were 100 years old or older. Last year, the first time Penacook held a special party for its centenarians, six residents were honored.

Secret to their success

Penacook’s senior resident, Artemis Zazopoulous, a native of Turkey, is 104 years old. Her advice to those who wish to reach 104? “Have a good heart and work hard!”

Other residents who have crossed this threshold echo similar thoughts, especially about hard work and being fit. Arthur Bradley, who turned 101 this year, grew up on a farm. He credits his good health with the demanding physical labor he had to do as a young person and that he walked everywhere, noting that there was no school bus when he was a boy. “When I was a kid we were so busy,” he says.

According to a recent survey of 100 centenarians, keeping up with the times and staying engaged may be as important as physical fitness when it comes to longevity. The survey, conducted by Evercare, a care coordination program that services Penacook, found that about a third of centenarians watched a reality television show and that nearly 25% have purchased a music CD. In that spirit, Penacook’s special birthday gift to each centenarian was an iPod loaded with classical, jazz, and big band music.

A facility-wide commitment to Penacook’s golden rule: “To care for our residents as we would want to be cared for,” has resulted in an atmosphere where residents thrive socially and emotionally, in addition to having their basic needs met, President and CEO Julian Rich says.

“In all my years in this field, I’ve never been in a facility with so many people who’ve reached or surpassed the age of 100,” Rich says. “It is a testament to our employees’ dedication, determination and quality of work. They are a very special group of people.”

Penacook residents and their families are partners in making decisions and initiating programs that enhance quality of life and create a more homelike setting, which Rich believes is also a contributing factor to residents’ longevity. A committee of residents, staff, and family members tackles projects such as improving the dining experience to include more choices and homelike meals and establishing “neighborhood communities” within Penacook so that residents feel more connected to each other. Through Penacook’s award-winning Tree of Dreams program, dozens of residents have had their wishes granted. Thanks to the careful planning of staff members and the generous support of local businesses, residents have been able to go out on dates, attend baseball games and concerts, play a round of golf, visit museums, and go deep-sea fishing.

Staff at Penacook recently fulfilled one of Ralph Prescott’s long-time desires to go on a boat ride by taking him on a Boston Duck Tours excursion. “It’s something I will always remember,” Prescott says. “It was a real treat. The boat was full of people!”

But Penacook’s golden rule isn’t just about caring for residents. It’s about helping residents find ways to return that gesture. Staff members have helped Prescott stay active and engaged by allowing him to use his talents to give a little something back to the Penacook community. Prescott, 84, who grew up on a farm, gets a lot of satisfaction from the time he spends planting and caring for the flower beds on the grounds of the facility.

Residents are encouraged to participate in their community in a variety of ways. Recently, some residents assisted a staff member in collecting items for a drive to support local soldiers being deployed to Iraq. They are also able to nominate employees for special recognition if they feel a particular staff member who takes care of their daily needs has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Positive feedback

Penacook’s efforts to enhance the lives of its residents have been met with positive feedback. According to the results of the 2007 Massachusetts Department of Health Nursing Home Satisfaction Survey, family members of Penacook residents report that they are very satisfied with the level of care that their loved ones are receiving. Penacook received 4.57 for overall satisfaction (on a scale of 1 to 5), well above the statewide average and the highest score of all area nursing homes that participated in the survey. The survey asked questions related to resident needs, quality of staff, the physical environment, activities, personal care, food and meals, and residents’ rights.

“Everything we do for residents, from nursing care and rehabilitative care, to meals and activities, is always done with the golden rule in mind,” Rich says. “To truly achieve that goal, we’re always listening to residents and their loved ones so that we can address their needs and concerns. I believe that kind of atmosphere is beneficial to residents’ overall well-being and longevity.”

Karen McDowell is a freelance writer based in Gilford, New Hampshire. She has written for mainstream newspapers and other publications, including Physician’s News Digest, Today’s Supervisor, and the former North of Boston Magazine.

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