“The first step is just asking your residents. The rest will fall into place.”

That’s the advice that Theresa Perry, corporate director of wellness services for Acts Retirement-Life Communities, shared about incorporating health and wellness into senior living programming on Tuesday during the first day of the International Council on Active Aging Virtual Conference, Leadership Summit and Expo 2020.

Acts’ health and wellness philosophy, Perry and colleagues said, takes a holistic approach to integrating body, mind and spirit across the continuum of living. Using that model, the Pennsylvania-based company’s continuing care retirement communities created two programs to address the four dimensions of wellness — vocational, spiritual, intellectual and social.

A Servant Heart

A Servant Heart is a program to feed the hungry through which residents prepare and serve food through a local support agency partner. Andrea Powell, the life engagement coordinator at Park Pointe Village in Rock Hill, SC, said the CCRC partnered with a local soup kitchen to have residents prepare and serve a chef’s salad each month.

Powell said the program addresses vocational and spiritual wellness by building on lifelong cooking skills, allowing residents to have a positive effect on others, giving residents purpose and helping them be part of something larger. 

Independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing residents volunteer to prepare the salad and cookies, and culinary staff members order the food and supplies, educate residents on soup kitchen policies and procedures, and provide food and knife safety training.

Other company CCRCs have partnered with community shelters and the Salvation Army to offer similar programs.

COVID-10 caused Park Pointe Village to adjust its procedures, including wearing masks, one-on-one preparation rather than group activity, and placing meals in to-go boxes rather than traveling to the soup kitchen to serve food, Powell said.

Wellness Chats

Kimberly Huff, Acts director of fitness and wellness, said the company’s “Wellness Chats” for residents “provide intellectual and social programming utilizing multi-departmental collaboration.” The chats began in 2016 and evolved over time based on feedback from residents. 

The 30-minute interactive format includes an exercise component and provides incentives for resident attendance, including food and prizes. Due to COVID-19, programming moved from in-person sessions to live-streamed presentations that replay throughout the month, reaching a larger audience.

Huff recommended that others seeking to implement a wellness chat series first conduct a needs assessment to determine resident interest, identify available resources, create a theme, make presentation community-specific, make the program interactive, promote it within a community, use food and incentives to improve participation, and listen to and respond to resident feedback.