Most people who regularly work with senior citizens agree that keeping people's minds and bodies active is the secret to good health and happiness as we age. Sitting in front of the television and shutting oneself off from friends and family is not a healthy way to live. It generally leads to deteriorating physical, mental and emotional lives.
This is why senior residential communities in the suburbs have invested in state-of-the-art fitness centers, indoor swimming pools and landscaped walking paths. These communities vary when it comes to the living styles and services they offer, so it is important to shop around before you choose one.
The Grand at Twin Lakes in Palatine is a totally independent living community with studio and one-bedroom apartments for rent. It can offer a la carte services for those who need them -- like assistance with bathing, getting dressed and taking prescribed medications. But The Grand does not offer full assisted living services, according to David Pokorny, director of operations.
The Grand features an indoor swimming pool where low-impact aerobic classes are held daily and a fitness center that features resistance and cardio machines and daily exercise classes. Both facilities are also open for individual, non-class use.
Other facilities within the Palatine community include a pharmacy and a wellness center that is operated by Advent Home Health staff members who take blood pressure readings and answer residents' medical questions. There is also a physician on-site two days per week and transportation to other physicians' offices can be arranged.
When it comes to programming, The Grand surveys new residents to ascertain their interests and avocations and then creates new programs if they don't already have programming they think will appeal to that person.
Its programming staff then puts together a comprehensive calendar of activities, allowing residents and many others to teach. There is a quilting group, a gardening group, a puzzle group and a Majong group. Cognitive activities like Wii Bowling and group crossword puzzle-solving are offers, as is an educational speaker series, karaoke and other music programs. There are nutrition classes and trips to places like Arlington Park racetrack, casinos, restaurants, performances, grocery stores and shopping malls, Pokorny said.
"We also celebrate the various holidays with parties, concerts by Scout and school groups, and family-resident celebrations," he added. "And every day we hold an afternoon cocktail hour to allow our residents to socialize among themselves.
"The purpose of all of this is to combat isolation and foster relationships among our residents," Pokorny said. "If a resident is passionate about something, we will work to incorporate it into our programming and others will undoubtedly participate, too.
"Encouraging residents to become involved in the life of the community is good for both their mood and their soul. Our activities coordinator and other staff members are constantly looking for triggers to help residents find purpose in their lives and develop interpersonal relationships with others," he added.
The Moorings in Arlington Heights, a Presbyterian Homes community, has always been known for its active lifestyle and many fun activities. But new additions to the "full continuum of care campus" have made that even truer recently. A full staff in the enhanced indoor swimming area (complete with full locker rooms) and large, state-of-the-art fitness center offer water aerobics, chair yoga, tai chi, floor exercise classes and much more to maintain residents' health and wellness, said Jackie Nitche of The Moorings' fitness center.
"We are constantly working to enhance our residents physically, mentally and socially," she explained. "This generation of seniors waits for their doctors to tell them to exercise but once they do, within a few weeks we notice changes in both their bodies and their mental states. We educate them about walking to keep limber and strengthening their muscles to help them maintain their balance.
"We also have a beautiful facility and a full schedule of classes, trips and activities to keep residents busy and engaged. In fact, we have integrated wellness into every program. So our residents aren't sedentary anymore. We take nature walks in forest preserves and at The Arboretum (shopping center), tour architectural attractions and volunteer packing boxes for groups like Feed My Starving Children," said Bob Werdan, vice president of marketing and sales for Presbyterian Homes. "We are constantly seeking out meaningful activities for our residents to keep them busy and healthy."
It has been established that sedentary seniors age more quickly, so the days of seniors in communities not doing much each day are largely gone, he said.
"The seniors I work with today inspire me," Nitche added. "For instance, I have a 95-year-old man now who is still doing circuits in the fitness center. He tells me he has to move it or lose it."
Lake Barrington Woods in Lake Barrington is another senior community that puts plenty of emphasis on holistic medicine and the dimensions of wellness. It offers independent living and assisted living throughout the 195-apartment facility, said Mike Ross, executive director.
Lake Barrington Woods, too, offers an indoor heated pool, a fitness center, daily exercise classes and in-house physical, occupational and speech therapies for those who need them.
And next year the community will initiate its unique "Wellness University," which will track residents' participation in fitness programs, awarding credits to those who regularly engage in healthy activities.
Other offerings at Lake Barrington Woods include more than 300 fun and educational programs per month, as well as monthly cultural dinners focusing on the foods and entertainment of countries such as Poland, China, Greece and the continent of Africa. It even has an Adventure Camp Day each summer in Bartlett, during which residents may fish, boat, do archery and more.
Lake Barrington Woods also holds lots of themed holiday celebrations for residents (and some that include family members), a farmers market and trips to museums, casinos, the Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, shopping centers and communities including Lake Geneva. A monthly town hall meeting and an annual themed Family Appreciation Night in the facility's outdoor courtyard are held.
There are women's and men's nights each month featuring pizza, beer and themed fun and a large group of resident ambassadors who take new residents under their wings and introduce them to other residents and fun activities at Lake Barrington Woods.
"Seniors who live alone in a house or condo don't have much support and many only interact with the television," Ross said. "Here we work hard to encourage socialization with both their peers and the staff because we know how important that is to their well-being."