Extending Healthy Heart Activities in Senior Care Settings
Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death of men and women in the United States, linked to one in every four deaths. Yet in the past decade, the picture is improving. The number of seniors afflicted with the disease has decreased significantly.
“Our experience suggests senior care providers may have helped ignite this improvement by initiating heart-focused prevention programs,” says Callie Whitwell, chief operating officer and founding partner at Lifetime Wellness. “Leaders in senior care understand their pivotal role in helping residents combat heart disease and are providing proactive education and activities.” Whitwell’s company offers a portfolio of tools and resources to support its partner communities, designed to bring a whole-person approach to resident wellness that can be customized for each facility.
Making Better Choices
Heart-health education and activities take center stage in February, American Heart Health Month, with the theme, “Make Every Beat Count.”
“Our goal is to help our partners deliver an effective educational program by extending in-house resources and creating an engaging experience for residents, staff, and family alike,” Whitwell says. “Senior living communities’ structure and support can help seniors follow guidelines for heart-healthy living through education, coaching, and community building.”
In helping residents improve their heart health, Whitwell offers five tips for senior care providers. Together, they form the memorable acrostic, HEART:
Help seniors control what they can control. Although the top risk factor for heart disease is age, and that cannot be reversed, other risks can be lowered. The most common cause of heart disease and heart attack is atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries. Another leading cause is high blood pressure, which makes the heart work harder and contributes to a host of other health problems. Both conditions can be caused by such habits as eating unhealthy foods, staying inactive, being overweight, and smoking, all of which can be managed with lifestyle changes.
Explain the facts. Teach residents the common heart attack warning signs and ways to lower risk. Find creative and engaging ways to help seniors learn, remember, and share. Lifetime Wellness, for example, offers a Cardiac Education Newsletter with easy-to-understand heart disease facts, along with quizzes and games that make learning fun.
Adapt your menu. Healthy eating can reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, increasing good cholesterol, and decreasing bad cholesterol. It can also prevent blood clots and keep body weight in the healthy range. Provide low-fat, low-sugar, low-sodium menu options. Include abundant fruits, vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and fresh salads. Offer a “chef’s corner” to engage residents in making simple, heart-healthy meals and snacks.
Reinforce the importance of exercise. Help residents understand the vital role exercise plays not only in lowering the risk of heart disease but also in boosting mood, improving memory, and protecting the brain from age-related mental decline. Invite residents to participate in easy activities like walking or dancing that can increase blood circulation, reduce stress, and improve heart function. To simplify exercise programs, Lifetime Wellness offers senior living staff a Quick Reference Exercise Guide.
Think social connection. A key study found that heart patients who lack social support have poorer health outcomes. Provide fun opportunities for residents to bond and build a community. For example, group exercise, such as “cardio drumming,” offers not only an invigorating workout but also a stimulating way to socialize.
Maintaining Wellness as a Way of Life
The Nothing Beats a Healthy Heart Campaign is one of six campaigns Lifetime Wellness conducts with its partner communities throughout the year. April explores nonpharmacological approaches to care; May, fitness; July, wellness around the world; September, fall prevention, and November, diabetes awareness.
“Our end goal is to support residents who are living with chronic conditions and to promote wellness as a way of life,” Whitwell says. “Seniors who understand the workings of their bodies can make informed choices, day by day, for better health and abiding wellbeing.”