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Senior Living Centers Engage Residents with Person-Centered Activities
By Nancy Kennedy

Trey CoffmanIf your idea of "activities" in senior living centers consists of the traditional three 'B's – Bingo, Bible and birthday parties - it's time to update your thinking.  These settings have been undergoing a sea change, embracing "lifestyle engagement," an innovative new philosophy that is transforming the daily lives and living environments of residents. Seniors in residential and long term care settings are now full partners with staff, engaged in planning their own activities and empowered to make their own choices.

It's a healthy trend, says Trey Coffman, Director of Lifestyle Engagement for Presbyterian SeniorCare, and an evolving one that is impacting senior facilities locally, nationally and globally. "Person-centered care is a philosophy that is designed to meet the individual needs of residents and engage them in activities they love that are not only enjoyable, but beneficial. It means learning about the resident's preferences, passions and life story, and building programs around them. Whatever they enjoyed before coming to live here, they should be able to continue to enjoy. We don't want anyone to give up doing the things they love. If you love bird feeding and you always had a birdfeeder in your backyard, there's no reason why you can't have one here. We go to great lengths to accommodate our residents in a personal way, so that they live well and age well. This is their home."

Residents at the care communities across the Presbyterian SeniorCare network are able to take advantage of individual or group activities. Many activities and classes are initiated by residents; there are classes in ceramics, cooking, gardening and various crafts. Coffman, who has a degree in recreation therapy, says that brain games are popular, as is technology: "The residents line up to use the computers. We use I-pads a lot." Also popular are the decorating committees for each "neighborhood" within the care communities. "Decorating here doesn't mean just holiday decorations. Each floor is called a neighborhood and has a name; the residents choose together how they want it to look. They choose the art on the walls for instance. They are a community of neighbors."

Coffman believes that leisure is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, with benefits to physical and emotional health, and opportunities for social connections. Outings, especially to a new restaurant or the casino, are very popular. Visits by schoolchildren from nearby schools keep residents connected to the community, and seeing pets on a regular basis is therapeutic for everybody. "Some families bring pets in every day," Coffman says, "and we encourage this. They're always welcome." Many residents participate in the Loving Hands program, which completes volunteer projects for various causes. Care packages for soldiers, lap blankets for veterans, or Christmas gifts for women's shelters are created by residents, who also deliver them.

Presbyterian SeniorCare Network is a system that encompasses 54 communities in 10 counties in western Pennsylvania, stretching north to Erie and south to Washington, PA. These communities serve 6500 seniors every year. For more information, visit www.srcare.org.

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UPMC Senior Communities offer residents a wide range of social and recreational activities geared to the interests and needs of seniors, says Greta Ceranic, Marketing Director. "Our focus is on socialization; we believe that socialization is the key to happy, healthy aging. In planning activities and outings, the emphasis is on building relationships. Many seniors are isolated and lonely, and social activity is crucial to healthy aging."

Activities abound in the UPMC Senior Communities residences, which encompass independent and assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care settings. UPMC Senior Communities help seniors stay well, live vibrantly, remain engaged and meet the challenges of growing older. Each location has its own activities director; suggestions from residents are encouraged. Ceranic says that while the current generation of seniors love to play cards and board games, there are opportunities to enjoy physical activity as well.  "We have structured exercise classes, plus fitness centers where residents can use exercise machines that are designed for added safety, such as recumbent bikes. We also offer fun events such as line dancing. Activities such as these help to keep the brain healthy."

UPMC Senior Communities offer a full schedule of entertainment and classes. Art classes are among the most popular; the instructor brings in a famous painting which the group studies, then they attempt to paint in that artist's style.  There are opportunities for gardening; there is a knitting and crochet group; and there are outings to the community. Recent outings took residents to a Pirates game; to Phipps Conservatory and to the Nationality Rooms at the University of Pittsburgh. Parties are always well attended and there are plenty of them, Ceranic says. "We have lots of parties – birthday parties, anniversary parties, holiday celebrations and many other occasions. We love to have a party!"

UPMC Senior Communities include 21 locations extending UPMC's world class senior care throughout seven counties in Pennsylvania.

To learn more about UPMC Senior Communities, visit www.upmc.com/Services/senior-communities or call 1-800-324-5523.

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At Concordia Luth­eran Ministries, activities are plentiful and many are resident-driven, says Vicki Bigley, Event Coordinator and Trip Manager for Haven 2, one of three continuing care retirement communities at Concordia at Cabot, PA. Each building has its own activities director and a full schedule of classes, entertainment and activities. “The residents bring ideas to us,” says Bigley; “We encourage them to do that. We have variety; there really is something for everybody: ice cream socials, happy hours, movie nights, and ‘Dining Destiny’ nights, when we go out to dinner. We have traditional activities like bowling, card games and board games, and we bring in speakers and entertainers. Recently we had beekeeping class, mail fraud class and a class on butterfly care. Our Lifelong Learning program offers a range of classes; cooking is a popular one. Families are welcome to attend every event or class.”

With her colleagues Chantelle Sweeney and Lynn Turner, Bigley excels at creative program ideas. “We get lots of feedback, and no matter what the residents ask, we find a way to do it. We even had a Family Feud night, among the three Havens. When an activity is initiated by a resident, attendance is better, because they promote it themselves. They have a voice in everything we do; we have a church committee, library committee and garden committee.”
“Our residents are aging in place, and this is home. Some babysit their grandchildren; some have their own gardens. They can borrow a golf cart and drive around the campus to visit the pond; they can walk the trails or sit on the patio to listen to a concert. We’ll take them to the mall. We encourage them to be active and we are passionate about meeting everyone’s needs; if they need help with an activity, we provide that help. The residents tell us that they love all the options and it’s rewarding to hear that.”

Concordia Lutheran Ministries has 14 locations and 17 facilities across the region. To learn more, visit www.concordialm.org.

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