Aspen Club helps seniors maximize their aging experience

For 30 years, this club has helped its community through educational health classes and important physical programs for its 50 and older members.
May 22nd, 2019

Growing older is not what it used to be, and the UCHealth Aspen Club is determined to make sure of that.

Just ask Marlys McGrath.

couple stands together outside
Marlys and John McGrath joined the UCHealth Aspen Club when they moved to the area seven years ago. Photo by Andrew Kensley, for UCHealth

“We call the Aspen Club part of our social life,” said Marlys, a Fort Collins senior and proud Aspen Club member. “I had no idea of all the things we’ve done (with the Aspen Club) until I made a list, and I was blown away by how many we’d taken advantage of.”

The energetic Marlys and her husband, John, have been attending Aspen Club classes and seminars since they moved to northern Colorado from the Washington, D.C., area seven years ago. In fact, Marlys said they’ve attended such a wide array of offerings, they lost count long ago. And with the issues that seem to pop up daily in the so-called Golden Years, they’ve valued each one.

Celebrating 30 years

This summer, the Aspen Club will be celebrating its 30th anniversary of supporting healthy aging with even more free programs for the northern Colorado 50+ community with a “full-spectrum wellness wheel,” according to Jill Taylor, the club’s Community Health Improvement supervisor.

In August, for example, world-renowned conductor and clarinetist “Maestro” David Dworkin will lead “Conductorcise” class, allowing participants to use chopsticks while they conduct their bodies in a lively exercise routine set to music.

And in December, in conjunction with its annual holiday gala at the Lincoln Center, health humorist Dr. Brad Nieder provides medicine in the form of laughter.

One might say that the Aspen Club’s message to seniors is: Out with the “Old” and in with the “new old.”

A period of vitality

Taylor has been at the helm of the Aspen Club for 29 of its 30 years and remains as excited as ever to help her community ease gracefully into its latter decades. She points out that continual advances in science, technology and medicine mean that gerontology researchers no longer consider the aging process as a period of decline but rather one of vitality, purpose and dignity.

“It’s been so joyful to see the Aspen Club blossom and grow, and to be embraced by the community,” Taylor said. “I’m doing things I’ve always wanted to do, and am learning so much about my own aging process. I’m proud of our health system, and I’m proud that Aspen Club is highly regarded in the community.”

Beyond the physical

woman holding weights while lifting her leg
Linda Kovar at her “Strong Women Healthy Bones” class. It’s one of many Aspen Club senior programs in northern Colorado. Photo by Andrew Kensley, for UCHealth.

Linda Kovar has attended the “Strong Women Healthy Bones” exercise class twice a week for over a decade. The active 65-year-old says she couldn’t wait to retire three years ago so she could take more classes, and raves that the benefits stretch beyond the physical.

“I enjoy the camaraderie,” Kovar said. “We have a great core group who gets along so well. My classmates and I often say we’re getting two classes for the price of one: exercise and laughter.”

Kovar and her classmates spend an hour performing various exercises with weights and resistance bands. When someone is sick or absent, the group is sure to bring them meals and cards and follow up to make sure they’re recovering well, Kovar said. In other words, each class is a community within a community.

What matters to you

From fitness and nutrition, to fall prevention and chronic disease management, and even the benefits of laughter and financial planning, the Aspen Club tackles any and all issues that matters to seniors, regardless of background. For Taylor, the job of scheduling original, relevant classes for the nearly 13,000 members is a perpetual challenge that she takes seriously.

“We have to have a balance between what our members want, what we want to give, and how to marry the two,” said Taylor, who earned an undergraduate degree in recreation and a masters in Gerontology from University of Northern Colorado.

Future planning

Jill holds up an aspen club newsletter while sitting in her office
Jill Taylor, UCHealth Community Health Improvement supervisor, has watched the Aspen Club grow in her 29 years with the program. It now offers dozens of senior programs in northern Colorado and has thousands of members. Photo by Andrew Kensley, for UCHealth.

One of the Aspen Club’s most popular services remains helping seniors set up their advanced directives — wills, and medial and financial powers of attorney — and file them at medical facilities in the region, Taylor said. Having these documents on file can be vital in the event of sudden and serious medical issues.

“And it’s not just ‘Here’s the forms, you’re on your own,’” Kovar added. “It’s, ‘Come in, we’ll sit down with you and help you fill this out.’”

Help with the ‘now’

Another is providing regular prescription drug plan updates, which can be confounding in today’s ever-shifting health care landscape. The McGraths, for example, had experts review their medication lists and advise them on the options that best fit them. Taylor estimated that 2,000 people saved money on their plans last year alone with their counseling.

The Aspen Club followed the lead of UCHealth’s many research initiatives by selecting evidence-based program to offer its members, such as, Memory and Brain Health and Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery Class. And these EB (or evidenced-based) classes are marked as such in the club’s newsletter.

Resources

Aspen Club also offers caregiving resources including the six-week Powerful Tools for Caregiver and nine-week Stressbusters for Family Caregivers classes. Here, caregivers get the tools necessary to manage themselves and deal with the inevitable stress that comes with caring for others over the long term.

women talking at longmont seniors program
Erin Pallin, a registered dietitian with UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital, talks to Aspen Club members about eating healthy a recent meeting. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth

When asked to recount her favorite, Marlys had to review the extensive list she compiled in a notebook. For her and John, the blend of serious education with levity and empowerment was vital.

“The programs are upbeat and fun, and they let you know that you can do more than you think you can do,” Marlys said. “It’s a wonderful balance of medical information, things you want to know, and maybe things you didn’t know you wanted to know.”

John added, “If it was all about neuropathy or heart disease or foot problems, I’d be depressed after a while. The balance is really the magic.”

How to Choose?

The sheer volume of classes can be overwhelming. Consequently, the best way to get informed is to sign up for the free newsletter, delivered either electronically or via snail mail, Taylor said. Along with its list of classes, it contains helpful tips, encouraging stories, and even opportunities to join relevant research studies. Additionally, new member orientation takes place every month to help new members get organized.

salmon cooks in a skillet while women talks and room of people listen.
Rita Gee, head chef at UCHealth Longs Peak Hospital, discusses healthy eating habits to Aspen Club members at a recent meeting. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

For Taylor, the expanding geography of the UCHealth footprint in Colorado poses a challenge. But with offices in Fort Collins and Loveland, and recently opened branches in Longmont and Greeley, the Aspen Club’s goal is start with their nucleus of services, to get people to feel comfortable with the system, including doing more outreach and membership recruitment for its wellness programs.

 

“The Aspen Club has made me more health conscious, with its updates on health information and stressing the importance of health issues to help me take better care of my health,” Kovar said.

John McGrath put it another way, “The Aspen Club has my back. I can depend on its programs to keep me up to date.”

To learn more about Aspen Club’s 30th anniversary events, to join, or for information about services, please visit www.uchealth.org/aspenclub or call 970.495.8560.

About the author

Andrew Kensley has worked as a freelance writer in northern Colorado since 2009. In addition to his work for UCHealth, he is a regular contributor of essays, features and the News & Notes section of Fort Collins Magazine. He also has written numerous cover profiles, Q&As, and travel and wellness features for Mind+Body Magazine and the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the newspaper in which his parenting column, “Wee Wisdom,” ran Sundays from 2009 to 2013. His travel essays have been featured in the family travel website, Momaboard.com.  

Andrew published his first novel, “Seeking Blue,” in 2014, and his short fiction has appeared in the University of Wyoming’s literary journal, Owen Wister Review.

Andrew was born in Montreal, Canada, and has lived in Fort Collins since 2004. A 1996 graduate of McGill University, he continues to work as a physical therapist, helping people regain their mobility, confidence, and functional abilities. He speaks French, Spanish and Hebrew, and loves to travel.