Bright Spot: Elders in Motion in Fort Smith
One of the highlights of the annual NWTRPA and SideDoor Youth Centres Conference is the Bright Spots session. Organizations often focus on what isn’t working. Bright Spots turn our attention to what organizations and communities are doing well. They celebrate innovation and success. This year, we had three great presentations about interesting and effective programming in Fort Smith, Inuvik, and Fort Simpson. Over the coming weeks, we will profile each of these programs and their champions. We begin with the Elders in Motion program in Fort Smith.
For the last six years, Elders in Motion has been promoting independence, functional mobility, and wellness amongst older adults in the NWT through a series of safe and effective fitness activities. The Elders in Motion program, which took its inspiration from the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging’s Home Support Exercise Program, was developed by the NWTRPA in partnership with the Dene Nation, NWT Seniors’ Society, Aurora College and the Department of Health & Social Services. These four organizations continue to be active supporters of Elders in Motion.
Since 2009, 285 people from 29 of the territory’s 33 communities have attended an Elders in Motion training event. This number does not include the almost 100 participants who made their way to Yellowknife for the Elders in Motion Training Gathering in late October. This two-day event brings together recreation leaders, health professionals, students and active elders to share best practices for community and home-based recreation and fitness programming for older adults.
The success of individual Elders in Motion programs depends on community champions. There are a number of enthusiastic EIM supporters in Fort Smith, including NWTRPA Board Member and Community Recreation Coordinator Cynthia White and Jeri Miltenberger. White oversees the logistics of the Fort Smith program, including room bookings, equipment, and transportation, while Miltenberger, who is also a part-time yoga teacher, is the program’s instructor. The program is now in its third year.
Every Wednesday afternoon, elders from across the community gather at the Fort Smith Recreation Centre to work on a series of strength, flexibility, and balance exercises under Miltenberger’s encouraging tutelage. Some come of their own volition, while others have been referred by health care professionals. All are committed to maintaining their independence and staying physically active.
“People don’t realize how little extra activity you have to do to have health benefits,” Cynthia White observes. Elders in Motion exercises are one way that older adults in Fort Smith and across the territory can access the health benefits of staying active. The series of exercises that are included in the weekly classes can be easily adapted for individuals with a variety of physical limitations and health concerns from bad knees to arthritis to cardiovascular problems. “We take into account people’s abilities and restrictions as we’re planning, and modify the program. We’re not going to solve every issue everyone has, but we provide movement and a safe environment for them,” explains Jeri Miltenberger.
Elders in Motion is more than a series of exercises, however. “The social component,” Jeri Miltenberger believes, “is nearly as important as the physical.” Participation in the weekly classes gets Fort Smith elders out of the house and gives them time with friends and neighbours. This is especially important during the winter months when environmental conditions make it more difficult for elders to be active outside. In addition to the health benefits, Louise Frasier likes EIM “for the socializing.”: “I see a lot of my friends here,” says the Fort Smith resident.
In Fort Smith, Elders in Motion classes are part of a growing number of activities organized by the town’s recreation department for elders. Another popular activity is Seniors Day at the Rec centre, a monthly event that features fitness classes and a healthy lunch developed by a dietician.
We will give Louise Frasier the final word on the Elders in Motion program: “Seniors should just all come, men and women. It’s good to have all of us together!”
If you are interested in starting an Elders in Motion program in your community, contact Sheena Tremblay at the NWTRPA (firstname.lastname@example.org | 867.669.8381). For more information about recreation programming for elders in Fort Smith, contact Cynthia White (email@example.com | 867.872.0120).