Elders’ health flourishes under the care received at nursing facilities

By Claudia Mathis
SUN staff writer

The health of the residents at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Utica and at Loretto gettingfitHealth and Rehabilitation Center in Syracuse is in good hands. The facilities’ nutrition and exercise programs greatly enhance their fitness.

Loretto residents Eva Bouchard and Alex Finley are thriving under the exercise programs provided at Loretto. “My fitness has improved,” said Finley. “When I first came to Loretto, I couldn’t walk very far. Now, I walk a lot better.”

Finley, at 82 years old, plays basketball, Wii Bowling and volleyball on a regular basis. “I really enjoy Wii bowling — I used to bowl quite a bit before coming here.” Wii is a video game system often used for exercise.

“Alex has great mobility,” commented Brenda McCutcheon, director of spiritual life and eldercare services at Loretto.

“Loretto approaches the care of our elders through a holistic model of body, mind and spirit care,” said McCutcheon. “We provide a variety of venues to promote wellness.” She listed Wii fitness, (sports such as golf, basketball and horseshoes), music and movement and creative movement, where the elder chooses a theme and then leads the exercise as examples. Movement revolves around chair exercises, stretching and toning, discus/Frisbee exercises, chair dancing, and lifting weights, among other things.

McCutcheon added that Loretto residents also go fishing in the summer, which encourages active movement. In addition, Loretto’s pet visitation program encourages movement through reaching, stretching and petting. “In September of each year, we host a Loretto Olympics for all physical pursuits, like throwing, putting, etc.,” said McCutcheon.

Bouchard, extremely active at 76, plays volleyball once a week, ring toss, horseshoes, tabletop bowling and does stretching exercises. “I’m keeping immensely healthy,” said Bouchard. “We all need exercise.”

Bouchard is actively engaged in helping other elders, leading her exercise class in such things as arm curls, head rolls, finger stretches and leg exercises.

“Eva has great arm strength,” commented McCutcheon.

The way in which Finlay and McCutcheon are actively engaged with activities at Loretto is a very important aspect of their lives. “The opportunity to give as well as receive, like helping with the placemats and helping to lead exercise — these are roles that connect them with skills that were part of their lives, teaching, helping, etc., and we try to cultivate those things,” said McCutcheon.

Nutrition is also an important factor in a healthy lifestyle. Loretto’s nutrition plan is an interdisciplinary one in which the nutrition manager, nursing staff, physicians and social workers all play a part.

Laura Toczek, clinical nutrition manager at Loretto, said she meets one-on-one with the elder when he or she first enters the facility. “I consider their likes and dislikes as well as any issues such as chewing and swallowing problems,” explained Toczek. “My role as a dietician is changing because Loretto is transitioning toward person-centered care, which supports individual choices.”

Toczek said that Loretto is offering more individualized education to the elders, enabling them to choose a menu that is nutritionally sound and well balanced.

Toczek enjoys watching the way the elders’ quality of life improves after they begin to follow a nutritionally sound diet. “It’s a really rewarding experience to see them come in malnourished then to see them thrive,” she said.

At St. Joseph’s Nursing Home, David Baker is working with a diet technician and a dietitian to address the needs of its residents. Similar to Loretto, St. Joseph’s is striving to make the environment as home-like as possible.

Baker explained how the residents are informed of what will be served on each day’s menu the day before. During a five-week menu cycle, each person can choose between the main selection and an alternative for each part of the meal. “The residents love the choice,” said Baker. “In this way, we can give them a small part of their independence back.”

Each floor of the facility has a nourishment area that is easily accessible to the elders whenever they desire a snack between meals. It is stocked with healthy food choices such as yogurt, juices, milk and fresh fruits.

St. Joseph’s residents are physically active both within the facility and out in their community. They participate in the annual wheelchair race, American Heart Association Heart Walk, the Senior Olympics, march in the Utica St. Patrick’s Day parade and compete in various bowling tournaments.

Activity programs within the facility include Music in Motion, balloon volleyball, ring toss, table bowling and a racetrack game.

The introduction of an innovative computer system, It’s Never 2 Late, to the elders at St. Joseph’s has dramatically enriched their lives. The new computer system is designed for individuals who may or may not have computer experience. The technology engages them physically, emotionally, mentally and socially.

The computer system has allowed St. Joseph’s therapists to custom design treatment programs for their residents with cognitive and physical impairments. Through the activities in the programs, residents are able to improve their range of motion, balance, coordination, cognition and memory skills.

“It is so intriguing to watch them,” said St. Joseph’s occupational therapy aide Deb Hurteau. “Some have had no experience with computers. They are so involved and it seems purposeful to them. The activities raise their self esteem — that’s when it’s successful.”

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