A myth persists that older people residing in assisted-living centers lead sedentary, socially isolated lives, just awaiting the inevitable.
Tell that to 89-year-old Ursula Appel, who resides at The Terraces at Los Altos on Pine Lane – formerly Pilgrim Haven – with her 95-year-old husband, Chuck. Married 21 years, this is the second time around for both, and their children are delighted they found each other.
Together, the Appels attend three exercise classes a day – yoga, aerobics and a physical coordination class that teaches Nordic pole-walking for balance. Nordic poles are oversized and help users walk erect, not hunched over a shorter walking stick. The result looks like cross-country skiing, according to Ursula.
Chuck in particular needs help with his balance because he is legally blind and uses a cane to walk.
“We’ve always been active,” said Ursula, and they don’t plan to stop now, especially not after what they have learned through The Terraces’ My Masterpiece Living program.
Living a Masterpiece
My Masterpiece Living is a wellness initiative that shows people can continue to grow, move and learn well into their 90s. Experts like Laura Carstensen, Ph.D., director of the Stanford Center on Longevity have written about how couples argue less, have more time for meaningful relationships and contribute more as they age.
The Terraces at Los Altos – they prefer the descriptor “senior living community” – includes facilities ranging from independent apartments to hospital care, under the direction of a parent company, American Baptist Homes of the West. ABHOW founded the former Pilgrim Haven in 1949 and still oversees the facility, though the name changed two years ago. Many residents move in when they are in their late 70s and stay until their 90s.
Cathy Jensen, director of resident activities and lifestyles, said the company’s mission is “aging successfully.” To achieve its goal, ABHOW recently launched My Masterpiece Living. The program includes four core beliefs: Use it or lose it; Loneliness hurts – involvement heals; There are no age limits; and I can make a difference.
Staffers infuse these values into spiritual, intellectual, physical and social categories, according to Jensen, an energetic, friendly woman who embodies a can-do spirit.
“No matter how old we are, we can keep ourselves moving,” she said.
The monthly calendar lists a dizzying array of activities, like Wii bowling and golf, hiking, home arts, a men’s coffee, Bible study, book and piano groups and mah-jongg, among others. Jensen said she responds to resident’s requests and encourages activities that bring residents together, like a recent steel-drum concert.
Intellectual stimulation occurs in the form of a writer’s group and lectures by experts like Carstensen or others. In addition, residents talk with students from nearby Santa Rita School, where Jensen facilitates a pen-pal program in which the older adults interact with students and serve as surrogate grandparents, in some cases. Terraces resident Lee Herrick has been corresponding with her pen pal for many months.
“Studies have found that volunteering improves mental and physical health,” Jensen said.
Jensen schedules two outings a month. In April, residents visited the Walt Disney Museum in San Francisco, where they enjoyed lunch. This month, residents will hike on the paths at Shoreline Park with Nordic poles. An activities committee makes suggestions to Jensen, who keeps lists of events that fall under Masterpiece Living rubrics. Under Spiritual Fulfillment, she lists Bible Study classes, Qigong classes, dancing and an emotional support group. For Social Engagement, she offers shopping trips, board games, bridge class, Nintendo Wii and men’s and women’s lunches or coffees.
Jensen also runs Neurobics, a brain fitness class.
“The brain is a muscle, and I teach them how to strengthen it with exercises that help them improve their memories.”
Jensen’s computer classes are popular – she teaches residents how to use laptops.
“One resident came in and said she had never used a computer,” she said.
Other activities help the greater community. For example, a St. Francis High School coach said his players had to satisfy the school’s community service requirements, so Jensen asked them to practice public speaking by chatting with the seniors.
“One high school boy said he had talked to a resident who was in a war that he had just studied about in school,” Jensen recalled.
However busy the residents get, most of them suffer from adjustment anxiety when they first move to The Terraces.
“This is a big transition for them, and we don’t forget that, and we don’t forget about people,” she said.
For more information on The Terraces at Los Altos, call 948-8291.
For more information on My Masterpiece Living, visit www.mymasterpieceliving.com.