While raising six kids and working long, busy days to support her family, Alice says it was always hard to find time to connect with people in her community.
Now, at 88 years old, she says she’s learned how to improve her social life and health thanks to United Way East Ontario partner, the Perth Enrichment Program (PEP) Seniors’ Therapeutic Centre in Lanark County. According to Alice, the program makes her feel like she’s part of a big family.
“I look forward to Thursdays to come here. I wouldn’t want to miss it. I even missed by brother’s birthday party just to come,” she says with a laugh, “and I love my brother.”
The PEP Seniors Day Program launched in Perth five years ago and expanded to Smiths Falls in July 2018 thanks to funding from United Way. The program, according to PEP’s executive director Pauline Fitchett, helps to enrich the lives of seniors by supporting them physically, emotionally, cognitively and socially through individualized plans of care.
“Sometimes, people come in and are a little anxious and are unsure what the program is about,” Pauline says. “By the time they leave they are smiling and laughing and giving hugs goodbye. They are feeling a part of something. They are feeling included in a larger group of friends.”
Seniors keeping their minds and bodies active
Every Thursday, at the Smiths Falls location, seniors strengthen their minds by discussing a daily quote with the group and completing cognitive worksheets. They also enjoy social time, eat healthy foods and participate in an exercise class.
The stories and insights of the other participants is something that Alice says she looks forward to every week. Some people are very intelligent and others have traveled around the world, she says, which creates very engaging conversations.
“It’s very important for older people to get out and be able to talk with other people,” Alice adds. “They can share things that happen. Everybody, no matter their age, can have an input for the other people in the program.”
Alice first connected with PEP after attending classes in Perth that helped her breathing problems. After being told a PEP location in Smiths Falls was opening up, she registered for the Older Adult Day Program.
Since first attending the program, she says there have been various exercise classes which have continued to help her with her breathing. Not only does she engage in lung exercises at the program, but she also takes what she learns and continues to do the exercises at home.
“A lot of us are now able to do things that we weren’t able to do before,” Alice says. “There’s a lot of things you can give and receive from others.”
Peace of mind for caregivers
Alice’s daughter and caregiver, Bonnie, says the program has been a big help for her mother as well as herself, as she receives encouragement, support and education from the staff. When she drops Alice off in the morning, she says she knows her mom is in good hands for the day.
It’s not just Alice who has benefited from the program. Both Bonnie and Alice have noticed a man in the program has especially improved since he first started attending. “In the beginning, he didn’t talk at home and he could hardly walk. Now, he just lights up when he comes and he talks all the time,” Bonnie describes. “You ask some of the others if they like to come here [too] and the tears come down their face out of joy because they really do look forward to it.”
A big family
The care that everyone has for each other at the Seniors Day Program is very special, Alice says, which bolsters their well-being and self-esteem. Katherine and Mary, who run the program at Smiths Falls, are large contributors in making the program feel like a big family, she adds.
“It means a lot when you come in and you know Katherine and Mary want to talk [to you],” says Alice. “When we come in, we’re made welcomed and are encouraged to participate.”
As a daughter and a caregiver, Bonnie says she can see how much the program means to her mother.
Thanks to United Way, the Smiths Fall PEP Seniors’ Therapeutic Centre has received funding to open up two days a week starting September 2019. Instead of the program just being held on Thursdays, the program will also run on Tuesdays.
“We would never have been able to do that without the support of United Way,” Pauline says, adding that the project is achieving exactly what they had envisioned. As the program will now be running two times a week, it will continue to achieve the goal of enriching the lives of local seniors in Lanark County.
“The elderly need to know they are worth everything they are and everything they were,” Bonnie says. “They are still worth something in society. If it means getting together with common people their age, then that’s the biggest help.”