BY VICTOR S. SIERPINA, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, Director, Medical Student Education Program, WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, Professor, Family Medicine University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor
As a busy clinician, it is useful to have at our fingertips a list of reliable resources in our community for referring our patients. Activities that are considered in the integrative medicine space are among these. In addition to knowing reliable practitioners in chiropractic, massage, nutrition, and nutritional supplements, adult education programs can be a highly useful extension of your practice.
One model that has been very helpful in Galveston is the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute—OLLI at UTMB Health. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must report that our local program was founded and is directed by my wife, a PhD gerontologist.
Our UTMB Health OLLI is part of a nationwide network of OLLI programs. Conceived and funded by the Bernard Osher Foundation, this program for healthy aging facilitate the delivery of college-level classes to adults 50 and older. With no tests and high-quality instructors, these programs have become a gathering place and social networking opportunity for thousands of older adults in Galveston and more than 150,000 nationwide.
If one looks at the factors which contribute to improving longevity and functionality in seniors, among them are social engagement, mentally challenging activities, and physical activity. Our local OLLI program as well as many of the national network of OLLI’s offer many or all of these options.
These educational and social activities bring older adults out of their homes, apartments, or other living settings. Challenging and inspiring courses on art, music, nature, games, iPhone and computer tips, art and music appreciation, life story writing, photography, birding, religion, and philosophy all fall under the heading of mental stimulation.
Perhaps no other group needs more encouragement and/or structure to stay physically active. Because of injury, pain, arthritis, lack of motivation and opportunity, those over 70 have the lowest rates of remaining physically active of any age group. By some estimates, this is lower than 10% compared to the 40%, of the general population that exercises regularly... although neither is an encouraging statistic.
What if in your next prescription for fitness, fall prevention, management of depression, weight loss, and so forth, you had an exemplary community resource like OLLI? There your patient would find free functional fitness and an indoor walking track. Additionally, tuition-bearing courses include yoga, chair yoga, tai chi, Pilates, ballroom dancing, Zumba Gold, DRUM, and more. All offer a safe environment for socialization and fitness.
AARP driver training and CPR classes add more important skills. Courses on meditation, cooking, nutrition, wellness promotion, history, theater, creative writing, and Spanish are all on the menu.
And while OLLI programs offer a broad array of options for healthy, vital aging, likely your community or even hospital has some similar offerings. Perhaps they are not under one roof and in affiliation with a medical school where healthcare students from multiple professions, residents, and faculty also come to study and do research on seniors in action. However, considering this kind of programming as an extension of your wellness and fitness prescription for improved activity, nutrition, social and mental stimulation is an evidence-proven way to help promote health and well-being in the older adult. Check with local senior centers, faith communities, community colleges, and other community centers near you.
This is a true integration of community, clinic, and academic center. The integrative medicine themes like yoga, tai chi, and nutrition, meditation and so on are woven seamlessly with other programming to create a maximum number of attractive options for adult learners. And while you may not have an OLLI program, this is the kind of forward thinking community outreach that hospital CEO’s are implementing across the country. If your hospital is considering starting or expanding their adult education and community offerings, support it by participating in teaching, referring patients, and promoting best practices for healthy aging.