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Wellness Report 2023

A wellness approach to living has blossomed in the last 40 years. But many people born in the 50’s and 60’s are reaching retirement age without the benefit of this mindset. They may have missed out on this paradigm shift. As late as 2000, retirement was still viewed as the end of “a life well lived” rather than the second act of our own play. With that in mind Expressive Avenues Wellness began developing this holistic wellness program for independent living, active, aging adults. St. Paul Adult Ministry for Seniors engaged in a two year wellness practice using the program Learning HOW to Age®. Changing a fixed mindset about aging to a growth mindset requires proof of a better alternative. The data collected on Learning HOW to Age® provides that proof. Proof that actively engaging in this stage of life cannot only be beneficial it can be challenging and fun.

In 2014, we documented independent living residents at Wesley Manor Retirement Village. We taught them modified exercises and games developed specifically to enhance skills needed for wellness as we age. Skills like the ability to shift focus from one task to another and back again—at will or mental flexibility. As the ability to shift concentration naturally slows, it becomes necessary to practice this skill. We need to maintain our ability to change our actions based on different or unexpected stimuli. Dual-task training has received notable attention in several academic papers that reported the positive impact this technique has on older adults (Bherer). After spending ten weeks at Wesley Manor, we went back to the drawing board.

We trimmed the class down to one hour. That gave participants a taste of the exercises. This kept them motivated without tiring them out. Meeting every other day for one hour reinforced a routine and improved retention from one lesson to the next. Morning hours were preferable to afternoon or evening. Like most of us, participants were mentally fresher after a good nights sleep. There is emerging research showing the connection of morning sunshine and our alertness (Huberman).

Handouts also aided in understanding and retention (Royal). Not all of these strategies are needed for every class, but this gave us a good starting place. For example, one gentleman had specific hearing difficulty that normal hearing aids did not seem to help. The suggestion to lower the pitch of my voice greatly improved his ability to differentiate instructions. I have found that in most cases, fewer words carefully chosen and articulated are more effective than a conversational quality that may signal familiarity but lack import.

Working in a small group remains the preferred approach for this program. The value of a small group versus an isolated setting cannot be underestimated. Establishing conditions for this kind of participation is necessary for this cohort to thrive.

Members of SPAMS began the introductory ten lessons, which met for five weeks, twice a week for one hour. All of the partcipants were retired and living independently. I continued to work with SPAMS for two years. During those two years I learned a lot: about the efficacy of the Learning HOW to Age® approach; which exercises engaged the participants and which ones didn’t; and how to structure this approach so that anyone working with independent seniors would be able to offer this program and the participants enjoy similar results: SPAMS mental flexibility improved by approximately 39.86% and kinesthetic awareness score improved 37.02%.

Not too long ago, neuroplasticity was a theory. According to the National Institute of Health, the study of neuroplasticity is defined as, “the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli. . .” (Puderbaugh). The organ we once thought of as fixed by young adulthood we now know continues to change into later adulthood as well (Schafer).  Through advances in brain mapping, researchers have shown a correlation between a particular activity and increased energy activity in the region of the brain associated with that activity (Rogers), proof that as we age there is a tangible benefit to being mentally engaged and physically vital.

Wellness Report 2023
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