Guest Columns

Embracing tai chi in long-term care

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Marc Raben at Lifespace
Marc Raben at Lifespace

When Ed Putnam first encountered tai chi 30 years ago, the Chinese exercise captivated him. He became a practitioner, studying the physical and psychological benefits of the calming, graceful movements. Today, naturally, he wants to share the power of tai chi with his neighbors at Beacon Hill, a senior living community in Lombard, IL.

I want to follow Ed's lead. As the director of lifestyles at Beacon Hill, I believe residents hold the key to vibrant community life. When residents take initiative to create programs that flow from their passions, the result is greater engagement.

Team members at Lifespace Communities and our peers in other senior living organizations are coming to the same conclusion: Our responsibility is to create the conditions wherein residents exercise their freedom and power to shape the life of the community.

Not surprisingly, Ed's class grew as residents experienced its unique benefits – stress reduction, improved balance and sharper memory. Ed now offers tai chi classes weekly to residents like Jane Nasti, who finds that the sessions don't leave her exhausted like other exercise routines. With its adaptability to different mobility ranges and wheelchairs, tai chi – and Putnam's passion – is an incredible addition to our community. His next program will feature qigong, which is a holistic practice of body posture, movement, breathing, and meditation used for health and spirituality in martial arts training.

Beacon Hill is not alone in providing pathways for residents to pursue their passions. At the Raybrook campus of Holland Home, located in Grand Rapids, MI, residents take advantage of opportunities to explore interests through the R.E.A.L. (Raybrook Enrichment Academy for Living) program. The classes are proving popular among residents – including those with dementia – who experience the benefits of individualized learning.

At Morning Pointe of Chattanooga at Shallowford, a Tennessee assisted living community, a volunteer spearheaded a project to build a model railroad and train station in the campus' main lobby. Resident Lillian Samuel found a new hobby in painting figurines for the railroad set. For the community, the train station – featuring a steam engine, tender car, and three passenger cars – provides a connection point for residents and visiting grandchildren, further enriching life at Morning Pointe.

With opportunities for residents to shape campus programming, communities ensure life enrichment plans foster initiative and result in greater benefits. Here at Beacon Hill, we see residents participate in purposeful activities by leading 90 percent of our classes, encouraging active aging and lifelong learning.

Residents want to lead. And our profession has the privilege of accompanying residents as they harvest their life experiences and share their gifts. According to the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, life enrichment programs profit the individual and community more under the full ownership of residents who initiate, plan and guide others in a particular area of interest. Undoubtedly, the benefits of life enrichment activities are numerous, but research – and our residents – shows that programs have greater impact when residents lead the way. Resident leadership boosts self-worth, calms anxiety and engages the disengaged.

To embrace resident leadership in programming, however, our profession has to let go of what Lifespace CEO Sloan Bentley calls the old model of “caring for.” The new model requires that we move with a kind of graceful tai chi in resident relations, recognizing their strengths, receiving their wisdom, and supporting their choices. Ultimately, that's what life enrichment is all about.

Marc Raben is director of lifestyles at Beacon Hill, a campus of Lifespace Communities in Lombard, IL.


Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.