Presbyterian Village North Lifestyle Fitness Center Pool

6 Ways One Provider Is Redefining Wellness in Senior Living

Above photo and design by Pi Architects

The workout selfie: emblematic of a culture that has been swept away by the fitness craze. And as the rest of the world becomes more in tune with this way of life, so too has senior living.

But providers are reinventing the way “wellness” is perceived in the industry — starting by offering more than just state-of-the-art gyms and fitness classes.

For many, the concept of wellness involves the whole person, and it centers around six dimensions: social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, vocational and, of course, physical.

“It used to be that ‘wellness’ only meant the fitness center,” says Cornelia Hodgson, principal of C.C. Hodgson Architectural Group, which designs senior living communities. “Now it’s expanding to really define the community as a center of well-being.”

Hodgson is part of a team of industry experts — including execs at Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging and Ziegler Capital Markets — investigating the rise and impact of whole-person wellness in senior living communities.

Though the team’s research focuses on continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), their findings relate to communities across the senior living spectrum.

Respondents in the team’s most recent survey, released last year, reported that wellness programs affected health care operations costs, use of the health care center and use of medication, and also reduced emergency room visits, hospital readmissions and falls.

Additionally, they indicated that wellness programs had an impact on resident and family member satisfaction and on move-in decision-making, with 90% to 91% of respondents rating wellness programs as important in these areas.

Similar findings ring true for Dallas-based CCRC Presbyterian Village North (PVN), which has implemented a comprehensive wellness program that integrates each of the six dimensions of wellness.

PVN, part of Presbyterian Communities and Services, has nearly 500 residents and offers a number of programs aimed at improving each resident’s mind, body and spirit.

The community’s holistic approach to wellness includes, among other initiatives, a Wellness University, laughter yoga, a Spiritual Life team, and plans for a new 6,000-square-foot wellness facility.

“Whole-person wellness is not just one or two of the dimensions; it’s a combination of all of them,” says PVN Wellness Manager Shannon Radford. “That’s why PVN is so different. Every department works together to provide those wellness activities to make sure our residents are getting what they need.”

By deconstructing the six dimensions of PVN’s wellness program, other providers can better understand why “wellness” in senior living no longer just means “fitness center.”

1. Social

Full-time Life Enrichment staff at PVN focus on the social aspect of wellness, although much of the programming at the community is a result of partnerships across several departments.

One example of social programming is offering cooking classes for residents, where they can not only learn more about cooking techniques, but also socialize with each other.

The community’s amenities also include a 250-seat performing arts center and additional meeting rooms.

“More and more people want that social cohesion of a community, but want to continue to be engaged in life,” Hodgson says. “It’s amazing how engaged so many people are. The old notion of retiring and sitting in a rocking chair is long gone.”

2. Emotional

In addition to offering more common wellness programs and amenities, PVN has tried lesser known activities, such as laughter yoga.

“Trying new things for us is what sets you apart from other communities,” Radford says. “When you look at communities, sure, you can pull up everybody’s calendar. But what takes us to that next level?”

Recently, PVN offered a laughter yoga course, an exercise routine that combines deep breathing from yoga and laughter to oxygenate participants’ brains, making them feel more healthy and energetic.

“The concept of laughter yoga is based on a scientific fact that the body cannot differentiate between fake and real laughter. One gets the same physiological and psychological benefits,” according to research by Dr. Madan Kataria, who developed the idea.

The technique has proven to change participants’ moods, reduce stress, strengthen the immune system, improve relationships and create a positive mental state.

3. Intellectual

For three years, PVN has offered Wellness University, a semester-long program meant to encourage learning and resident participation.

From March to May each spring — as well as a shorter semester in the summer — PVN integrates each of the six dimensions of wellness into classes taught by staff members and outside experts.

“It’s just like going to college,” Radford says. “They get a book of the three months of programming and they come to classes. At the end, we have a celebration where we announce the valedictorian and salutatorian — the residents who participate the most. It encourages people to have an incentive to try new things.”

Roughly 80 residents participated last spring.

Additionally, PVN launched a five-day “brain camp” this year, and offers “brainercize” classes weekly.

4. Spiritual

As a faith-based organization, PVN has a full-time chaplain and offers weekly worship services. However, the community also looks at “spirituality” in a broader light, helping residents become more connected with themselves and with nature.

Last month, it gathered residents for a sunrise devotion. Its tai chi and meditation classes relieve stress and promote calmness. A “relax and unwind” class helps quiet residents’ minds. And a Spiritual Life team is available for support.

5. Vocational (Occupational)

Among PVN’s amenities are woodworking, computer, business and sewing centers, where residents can gather to cultivate their hobbies, develop interests and learn new skills.

This dimension of wellness also includes volunteering, something the community strongly encourages.

“When you think of the physical aspect of wellness, it’s there with the common goal of: What do you want to do with that good health?” says Keith McCrate, community director of rehabilitation at PVN. “A lot of people create physical wellness programs, but how do you tie that into what else you want to do? That’s where volunteerism and engagement come into play.”

Among the resident organizations at PVN are a sewing group and a woodworking group, both of which donate many of their projects to people inside and outside the community.

6. Physical

PVN currently has an 1,800-square foot wellness center, which houses equipment and space for its 50 weekly fitness classes, as well as an aquatics and rehabilitation therapy center fit with a therapy pool with an underwater treadmill, gait monitoring and massage jets.

But the community is in the process of building a much larger facility — 6,000 square feet — to promote physical wellness.

“What we’ve found is our campus has embraced this wellness model so much that we’ve outgrown it,” Radford says.

With the renovation, PVN will also add another dining space: a healthy lifestyles cafe with a fruit and yogurt bar, which can serve as an alternative to residents’ everyday meals.

Inside the new fitness center there will also be a spa and a clinic with access to physicians.

“It’s exciting to see that health and wellness is such an important part here at the retirement community,” Radford says. “People are wanting to live their lives well, and retirement should be about doing the things you love and staying active.”

Written by Emily Study