Our Programming Is Improving Senior Mental Wellness

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the importance of senior mental health and physical health can never be overstressed, especially for vulnerable populations such as low-income seniors and people with disabilities, who can be more prone to loneliness, isolation and other conditions that can lead to anxiety and depression.

Building upon the work of our founders and affiliate, the United Church of Christ, our mission, vision and values at Embrace Living call us to respond to the needs of the times by advocating and serving our residents, many of whom have experienced these circumstances first hand. In alignment with our mission to support our residents as they age in place with dignity, CEO Ralph Gaines has created a strategic plan with a focus on mental health programming, and our social service teams are continuing to effectively deliver health and wellness activities to help residents feel mentally and physically healthy.

Our mental health programming seeks to provide meaningful interaction, higher levels of engagement and more fulfilling experiences for our residents. Some of these programs include cardio activities, art and music therapies, Tai Chi, cardio drumming, laughter yoga, soulful line dancing, mindful meditation and other evidence-based creative and physical programs. Studies show that participating in these types of programs alleviate pain, manage stress, promote wellness, enhance memory and help seniors express their feelings. Additionally it helps build a sense of community between our residents, something that is crucial to their long-term housing stability.

Mental and Physical Wellness

Gaines, with a background in leadership at companies involved in health promotion, understands the importance of implementing wellness programs at Embrace Living upon his arrival. He is uniquely equipped to set in place initiatives that promote both physical and mental well-being, and has already taken steps toward this in his first years as our President and CEO.

“Mental health and physical health run together, meaning people tend to have a much more comfortable and stable mental awareness when they are involved and have physical activity as part of their life,” says Gaines. “When you look at today’s world, we’re coming out of a very stressful COVID environment, even more so for seniors for whom it is deadly. One of the ways you relieve that is by getting involved in activity programming for your health.”

Let’s Get Moving Together

Interacting with others plays a significant role in an individual’s development and mental health, and it’s a natural fit to combine that socialization with a fitness initiative to get people moving while making friends.

We’ve done exactly that through our “Let’s Get Moving Together Challenge.” This challenge was established through a $12,000 grant from the Congregational Church of Deerfield in response to the need to navigate resident socialization and physical wellness. Through this grant, we were able to purchase wearable fitness tracking devices for 250 residents to work alongside each other to better their health.

Promoting Wellness Through the Arts

Another way to promote social connectedness and mental health is through the healing power of art, music reminiscing, and dance and movement therapies. The mental health benefits of these types of programs make it clear that affordable housing providers need to facilitate arts activities if they take seriously a commitment to wellness.

That being said, we’ve made a priority of connecting residents with partners who specialize in various artistic fields to come into our communities and lead our residents in healing creative practices. Our program “Improving Health and Well-Being through the Arts,” funded through The Russell & Josephine Kott Memorial Charitable Trust, seeks to meet residents where they are intellectually, emotionally and physically, and transcend language barriers while promoting inclusivity through arts programming.

Assessing Residents’ Unique Needs

All of this mental health programming is rooted in the unique needs presented by the residents through our Social Service Coordinators’ assessment process. Through these assessments, which help us determine residents’ mental health concerns, we can gather data to understand each community’s needs and inform what types of programs we seek out. We can finely tune programming to each community so that residents get the care they need.

Moving Beyond Awareness

Mental Health Awareness Month is important for the sake of bringing to light the large number of adults who live with mental illness, but what’s more important is what organizations and companies are doing about it. By providing intentional wellness programming for residents, we make good on our commitment to promoting mental health for all.

“You have to think about what is actionable,” says Gaines. “What do we do as a result of this increased awareness? We are actually responding in a positive way. We don’t just think about it during May but make it a priority among our residents every day. We are taking action and responding with the right types of programs to get people involved.”

To learn more about the types of services our Social Service Coordinators provide, visit https://embraceliving.org/social-services-coordination-program/