Healthy Aging Programs: Secrets to Success
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Healthy Aging Programs: Secrets to Success

December 12, 2012

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Senior centers are key players in delivering evidence-based healthy aging programs, according to a national survey of 122 centers conducted by NISC in November.

Over 90% of respondents said they provide an array of evidence-based programs, ranging from self-management and falls prevention to exercise, medication management, depression, and caregiving.

Many also provide targeted Stanford University self-management programs, such as those for diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain, as well as the online and Spanish versions of these programs.

Among all respondents:

  • 58.9% offer the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program (CDSMP)
  • 50% offer A Matter of Balance (falls prevention)
  • 36.6% offer the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program
  • 28.6% offer the Walk with Ease Program
  • 27.7% offer the Diabetes Self-Management Program

Getting Started

While some centers said they had a slow start, there was strong and clear support for offering evidence-based programs because seniors say they work. Participants said things like:

  • “It helped me to continue on my path spiritually, physically, and mentally.”
  • “It taught me to manage my diabetes and hypertension. I now think about what I need to do to handle my disease.”
  • “This class started me back on the treadmill. It’s been sitting here for years, and I wasn’t using it. Now I have more energy.”
  • “I had been having two servings every night for dinner. My Action Plan was to cut back to one serving. I have accomplished my goal.”

Finding Partners

More than 60% of senior centers shared some of their secrets to a successful program, and one clear common denominator was partnerships.

Centers reported working with nonprofits, universities, health care partners, local health departments, and area agencies on aging.

Here are some examples:

  • Faith Community: "We have great participation and often have waiting lists for our classes. Some of the success is holding the classes throughout the community to reach a diverse audience. Partners include the local faith community, other service providers, and our AAA."

  • Physical Therapists: "Physical therapists from local hospitals and rehabilitation centers evaluate our programs for safety and queuing."

  • Health Systems: "We have partnerships with a university-based system of health care to serve minority populations with focused diagnosis such as diabetes and heart disease."

  • Universities: "Our A Matter of Balance program is taught by students from AT Stills Health Science University and is offered at up to 30 locations every year."

  • Aging Network: "The New York City Department for the Aging provided materials and groups leaders for these programs. We would not have been able to provide these programs without their partnership."

  • Businesses: "Businesses have partnered with us to provide staff trained as coaches, and they have been enlisted as sponsors for refreshments."

  • Multiple Partners: We have great partnerships with our area agency on aging, county health department, VA, hospitals, senior housing facilities, faith-based groups, clinics, community college, fitness centers, Aetna, Wellcare, local and state coalitions, universities and interns, as well as lay coaches and lay leaders."

Success Stories

Senior centers also shared some of the successes they’ve had in offering evidence-based healthy aging programs:

  • "Our first success was having people tell others that it REALLY works! Second, increasing participation by the male population."

  • "We have class participants who have never been into the center for other activities, which then enables us to introduce them to all of our services and programming."

  • "Enhance Fitness is very popular. The class is always full and the participants seem to have a real bond with each other. They celebrate each other's success and call each other if someone has been absent from the class. Of course, the improvement of the health of these individuals is the most common thread amongst the participants. And they themselves will shout it from rooftops!"

  • "Enrollment in the Arthritis Foundation Tai Chi and Exercise Programs has been soaring. Not only do participants identify with the name of the class, but they are reporting great advances in joint motion, balance, and strength."

  • "Our primary successes have been in participant response and outreach to African American elders."

  • "We just did our first Chronic Pain PATH class and got twice the sign up we expected."

Coming Next Month …

Watch for another article in January outlining the challenges and barriers these senior centers faced, as well as opportunities they see to expand access to evidence-based programs for seniors in their community.


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