by Carol Cummings, BSN, RN
07 May 2018

As a nurse in senior living, I am frequently asked what our residents’ lives are like. There’s still an outdated stigma that senior living communities are lined with wheelchairs occupied by hazy elders parked in front of TVs. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially at Brookdale. We pride ourselves on nurturing every aspect of our residents’ lives and wellness. We call this approach Optimum Life.

Optimum Life is a holistic model that encompasses six dimensions: purposeful, emotional, physical, social, spiritual and intellectual. These dimensions guide us to learn and understand the facets of a senior’s life and wellbeing. There is powerful research related to each of these, especially physical activity and social connections. Here a quick breakdown of the dimensions:

PurposefulPurpose provides motivation and improves wellbeing

Emotional Happiness and joy lead to better life

Physical Exercise helps residents stay healthy and functional

Social Social connections are vital to health for older adults

Spiritual Spiritual wellness brings life meaning

Intellectual Brain health is supported by challenges and new learning

Even before I was aware of Optimum Life, I was a nurse dedicated to the wellness of my patients. You might ask, isn’t that what all nurses do? The answer is…maybe. In Western medicine, we are trained in acute care settings where the focus is, somewhat by necessity, the diagnosis and treatment of an injury or illness. Once we have helped the symptoms abate and the wounds to heal, we send patients on their way. Yes, we often give advice about diet and exercise as part of the overall treatment plan, but that is the extent of the “holistic” approach.  This is not criticism; it’s just an observation of a system that is full of overtaxed nurses and doctors trying to help patients as best they can. Too often in the process, diagnosis becomes a patient’s identifier.  We become the “diabetic patient” or the patient with “heart failure.” But we are more than our diagnosis. At Brookdale, we are shifting that perspective.

Residents in senior living, though they often have chronic health conditions, don’t typically need acute medical care, although many of them do need significant help with daily living. Therefore it is easy for residents to not be identified by their diagnosis, but by their care needs – the “diabetic” becomes the “person who needs help feeding.” Not at Brookdale! The Optimum Life model reminds us to really get to know each resident on a personal, profound level. This transforms the “fall risk” or “man who needs toilet assistance” to “Betty who loves to write” and “Jim who is a retired teacher.” The six dimensions of wellness help us nurture our residents and support them as they continue to grow throughout the rest of their lives.

The most powerful example is what research tells us about social isolation and its impact on health. There is also much to be said about the evaluation and easing of loneliness as a health intervention. In fact, this 2012 study points out that loneliness ought to be a vital sign and remind us that, “by separating suffering and distress into medical and nonmedical spheres, health care providers may be missing a key risk factor for poor health.” This is where senior living can have the biggest impact. According to the Institute on Aging, nearly one third of older adults live alone. That’s 11.3 million people. This study found that Medicare spends $6.7 billion more a year on seniors who are socially isolated because they are more likely to have depression, difficulty managing daily activities and have at least five chronic conditions. Living in a busy community surrounded by engaging residents and associates is truly beneficial for wellbeing. 

I love the words of author Wendy Lustbader in her classic writing entitled Thoughts  on the Meaning of Frailty, “I want to amount to more than the sum of the tasks my body imposes. No matter how few of my powers remain, I want to go on existing in my preferences. I will find evidence of myself in the way I like to arrange things on my desk and the peace I find in looking up at the sky through the branches of a tree. Far from a trivial charade, having my choices respected will give me precious continuity with earlier versions of myself.”  What Lustbader is describing in essence is Optimum Life, which is a pathway to wellness.

At Brookdale we are dedicated to creating a culture of wellness where our healthcare professionals truly take the whole picture of a resident and use the six dimensions as wellbeing vital signs. This leads to better health outcomes for residents and much better quality of life. That’s how you live an Optimum Life.

Be Well on Purpose.

Nurse Appreciation Week is May 6-12, but Brookdale is celebrating a Culture of Wellness in a Clinical World all month. Read blogs from Kim Estes Elliott and Carol Cummings, plus meet Brookdale Health and Wellness Superstars at BrookdaleNews.com.

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