It’s well documented that staying active, both physically and mentally, helps keep people more vital throughout their lives. And when it comes to the elders in our community, Mount Baker Care Center, which offers skilled nursing, and Summit Place, an assisted living facility, are always on the lookout for new ways to bring these benefits to their residents.

Bright sunlight and bright colors bring a little diversion and a lot of life enrichment. Photo courtesy Mount Baker Care Center

For Catherine Reis-El Bara, the administrator for Mount Baker Care Center, these programs start from a very personalized place.

“We try to provide enrichment activities for everyone, whether it be in their rooms, one on one, or in group activities,” she says. “Some people don’t like to engage in group settings, so we do in-room activities. It could be a manicure or helping them write a letter. Then there are the group activities where we have a common goal, like a book club.”

The activities can range from hands-on experiences to social get-togethers. “On the Mount Baker side, we have a great grant for Eldergrow, and we have a really awesome indoor garden. It’s a raised bed so that everyone can reach the plants, and we have a horticulturist that comes out and helps us talk about all the plants,” Reis-El Bara says. “We also have a happy hour every Friday, which is a huge hit. We usually come up with a drink of the week, and they very much look forward to it. If those people that can’t come out want to have a drink, we’ll take it to their room, but most people make it a group activity.”

Residents are also involved in more serious pursuits, as well. “When I hire a manager, I have a personnel committee, and residents serve on that committee,” says Reis-El Bara. “I usually pick the top three people that I’m interested in having work here, and then the residents sit on a panel, and they interview the potential employee as well, and then at the end the panel comes together to determine who we think would be the best fit.”

Reis-El Bara sees a few different advantages to this system. “One is that we all work for the residents. I mean, I am in charge of things, but the bottom line is that I work for the residents. This is their home, so they should have some say about anybody that comes in to work here,” she says. “And it also helps the potential employee, because the employee then knows that ultimately I may be the boss, but you work for the residents, that’s why we’re here, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Finally, it’s a way to give a deeper meaning to the lives of residents. “It’s a way of engaging the residents in a way that lets us give them the power. Empowerment and purpose are the goal,” she says. “There are definitely some life enrichment activities that are diversions—watching a movie is good for entertainment value—and then we have other activities that have purpose behind them.”

After a long and bleak winter, spending an afternoon in the sunshine can work wonders for a person. Photo courtesy Mount Baker Care Center

On the Summit Place side of the building, Executive Director Jozef Bosman sees many benefits that come from their life enrichment efforts. “One of the programs we really like, one of the most popular ones, is a stretch class. We have some residents who are in their late 90s who can touch their toes, which is fantastic,” he says. “They’re doing these classes religiously, and it keeps them flexible—some of the residents are saying that they’re having an easier time transferring from their chair to bed and things like that. Nearly every resident goes to it because they feel so much better afterwards.”

Summit Place also offers an open gym, which includes a piece of equipment called a Nustep. “They just love it,” Bosman says. “Our activity director designed a program where they’re basically running a marathon; they keep track of how far they’re going, and have a competition with each other: ‘Hey, I’m already at so many miles, where are you at?’ We make sure we do it in a healthful manner so that somebody’s not doing five miles in one day. They really enjoy it because they can see [their] progress.”

In addition to physical activity, Mount Baker Care Center and Summit Place Assisted Living cater to residents’ social lives. “We’ll have a beer and pizza night, or a wine and cheese night, that brings everyone together. We’ll have some kind of a topic to discuss, like this last month we focused on Indigenous people,” Bosman says. “We also have a daily newsletter that goes out that has a crossword puzzle and famous quotes and some history, and they’ll include some links to things like TED Talks for people who want to know more about the subject.”

While a large part of Reis-El Bara’s job is to make sure the residents are taken care of, she sees the value in making sure that residents are also taking care of themselves. “A lot of times everything is done for them, so it’s great that we can come up with an activity where there’s some [personal] responsibility, where they are needed and empowered as part of the process.”


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