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Senior+ Program Helps Mature Adults Remain Independent

The Senior+ Program is designed to help seniors maintain their independence through a supportive program.

For seniors coping with health concerns, chronic pain or the feelings of isolation that can accompany age, maintaining their independence can be a daunting challenge.

A pilot program in place at the Reston/Herndon Senior Center aims to make living independently a little less difficult.

The Senior+ Program provides seniors, 55 and older, access to all the benefits and activities offered by the senior center, as well as the supportive services of a therapeutic recreation specialist, a registered nurse, and a mental health specialist. The program is a cooperative effort between the Fairfax County Department of Community and Recreation Services, the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and the Fairfax County Health Department.

"It's an inclusion program within the senior center," said Tara Fitzpatrick, the acting director of the Reston/Herndon Senior Center. "There is an interdisciplinary team to promote wellness and independence."

SENIORS INVOLVED IN THE PROGRAM must visit the center, located in Reston, at least twice a week and participate in activities with the other senior-center members such as strength training, chair exercises, arts and crafts, and group field trips. In some cases the Senior+ members may need to have the activities modified to their abilities. The center also provides transportation to and from the center and nutritional lunches.

"The seniors don't even know who are Senior+ participants," Fitzpatrick said.

The difference for the Senior+ participants is that they are working to achieve goals that are tailored to help them to maintain an independent lifestyle regardless of any existing medical or mental-health conditions. Fitzpatrick said, for example, a person in the beginning stages of dementia might do more cognitive exercises, while others may need more recreational activities to fight off arthritis.

"They have a plan that includes activities they like and want to be doing and activities we recommend to them," said public health nurse Kathleen McGillan. "We like them to be a part of the plan. We meet with them on how well they are meeting their goals, and discuss what they can do differently. What we are trying to do is have them play a part in maintaining their well-being. We don't want it to become a trial to come here."

McGillan said she provides the medical support such as monitoring blood pressure and weight once a week, providing advice on the effects of mixing certain prescriptions and coordinating health teaching such as proper diet, preventing stroke and avoiding injury-causing falls.

The mental health specialist addresses the mental and emotional well-being of the seniors such as combating feelings of isolation. The therapeutic recreation specialist works to keep the seniors active and modifies the activities to meet their specific needs.

"The goal is to promote independence in the home and within the community," Fitzpatrick said.

THE PROGRAM began in February 2001, and the hope is to bring it to other senior centers throughout the county, said Patricia McClenic, public information officer for the Department of Community and Recreation Services.

"We're still gathering the statistical data and waiting to see if there is additional funding to expand the program," McClenic said.

The three agencies involved will review information such as the progress made by the participants and a survey completed by the Senior+ members and will then determine if they have any money to contribute to the expansion. In addition, McClenic said there is grant money available.

Participation in the program is determined by Fitzpatrick, who does an assessment of new center members to determine if the standard center program, the Senior+ program or the county's adult day-care program is the most appropriate for the senior. In addition, the Senior+ program accepts referrals from other agencies as well as the recommendations of family members. Fitzpatrick said there is a waiting list for the Senior+ program.