Along the shore of Lake Clare in Michigan, a young girl named Mary loved going to the home of her grandmother, whose name was Myrtle, though everyone called her Mert.
Grandma Mert always had wide-open arms for her granddaughter. She taught her how to fish, navigate a canoe and ice skate on Lake Clare when temperatures dropped in northern Michigan.
The bond they shared inspired Mary Duran to earn a bachelor’s degree in health promotions with a certificate in gerontology and pursue a career working with older adults.
Duran works as the program manager for UCHealth’s Aspen Club in Colorado Springs, a program that offers a variety of ways for older adults to become healthier by participating in social activities, classes, health screenings and assessments.
UCHealth’s Aspen Club began serving older adults in 1989
The community benefit program in Colorado Springs is modeled after northern Colorado’s Aspen Club, founded in 1989 in Fort Collins, to provide health education, screenings and social opportunities for adults ages 50-plus.
“There are so many older adults, and their outings are going to the doctor – and that’s all they do,’’ Duran said. “And if we can meet people where they are at … and give them purpose or outlets, ways to engage with the community to fulfill a need that maybe they are missing, that’s what I am really compassionate about.
“By providing programs through the Aspen Club, we’re getting people out of their houses to meet one another and providing an outlet — through a medical lens – that is really needed and impactful.’’
Since the program launched a few months ago in Colorado Springs, a variety of activities have been offered, including healthy cooking classes, fall prevention courses, Medicare 101, ‘Walk with a Doc’ and more.
Much of the outreach in adult living and community centers is focused on helping older adults understand the signs and symptoms of diseases and what treatments are most effective.
“We go into a lot of different community locations, and we’re asking, ‘what does the population want to hear about?’ We try to tailor the presentation to what each community wants, and then we provide an expert from UCHealth to lead the discussion,’’ Duran said.
Aspen Club activities tailored to the needs of Colorado Spring’s 50 and older residents
Conversations about Parkinson’s disease and recognizing the signs and symptoms of stroke have been popular topics. During a recent meeting at Jackson Creek Senior Living, a community that offers independent living, assisted living and memory support, Dr. Larry Cohen, a lifestyle medicine specialist and former emergency room physician at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central’s Level I Trauma Center, offered tips about lifestyle medicine. Cohen is well known in Colorado Springs for his Walk with a Doc program.
“It turns out that 80% of our chronic diseases, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and 40% of our cancers are lifestyle related. And I’m not just talking about tobacco, alcohol and drugs, I’m talking about diet and physical inactivity among other things,’’ Cohen said.
Cohen encouraged those in the audience to set SMART goals: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (or relevant) and timely goals for a healthier lifestyle, whether that be improving eating habits or additional exercise.
No matter your age, diet, exercise, restorative sleep, stress reduction and having positive social interactions are keys to a healthier life, Cohen said.
“People who have good community relations, people who have positive relationships with other people and positive social interactions are less sick and live longer,’’ Cohen said.
Following a brief talk, Cohen and Duran led the audience in an indoor “Walk with a Doc’’ experience through the well-appointed hallways of Jackson Creek Senior Living.
Duran said the outreach in the community helps UCHealth understand the needs of the community and what older adults need in a health care setting.
“We are asking, ‘what are the frustrations that older adults may be finding with the health care system and elevating them to ensure that we are providing a positive experience for our older adult population,’’ Duran said.
“UCHealth is here for the benefit of the community, and we are letting folks know that we are here for you and encouraging them to focus on their health,’’ Duran said.
The Aspen Club’s activities can be found on UCHealth’s events and classes webpage.