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Aging Well Keswick tackles brain games, belly dancing and stereotypes

There was a popular meme that circulated after this year’s Super Bowl: Under the text, “50 years old in 1985,” there was a photo of Blanche Devereaux, the sexy senior on the “Golden Girls” sitcom and a character played by Rue McClanahan.  Next to her was a bodysuit-clad Jennifer Lopez, mid-pole climb during football’s most famous halftime show. “50 years old in 2020,” the text above J Lo says.

We’re living longer and aging differently, statistics tell us.  And we’re wanting different things from our golden years.  Chirlaine Strand-Jackson, 61, has been attending classes at  Keswick Multi-Care Center’s Wise & Well program since the center opened more than a year ago. And while she hasn’t taken up pole dancing yet, she is going after their wide variety of offerings.

“I’ve done all the brain classes, yoga and belly dancing. I have taken all the nutrition classes and Zumba, but the art classes are the ones that I really want to start next,” she says. “The way I see it, we’ve grown older, we’ve put in our time, you know? So, now it’s our time to sit back, relax and enjoy our time here. It’s a home away from home.”

Finding passions
For more than 100 years, Keswick has been a Baltimore health resource for seniors who did not want to stay in their homes or were unable to do so. But today, many people are staying in their homes. However, there are still resources they need, one of them being a sense of community, which is why Keswick started Wise & Well. It currently serves more than 250 people.

“I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that everything sort of stops when you’re 65,” says Carmel Roques, Keswick’s president and CEO. “What we’re interested in doing here is helping people understand that once you retire, you do not suddenly become an ‘old person,’ and then it’s all over and you’re supposed to go sit in a rocking chair. I don’t think that’s the experience people are having anymore. So, the questions are: What is your purpose? What is your passion? How are you going to stay well? And that means different things for different people.”

This year, the center has created a fresh catalog of courses designed to be fun while educational. To promote kidney health awareness this month, for example, the center has a boot camp, where participants can explore recipes, movement and how to talk to health providers about reducing the strain of chronic conditions on one’s kidneys.

There is also a MELT movement class, teaching easy self-care techniques through the use of soft foam rollers to release tension and stress, decompress joints and improve alignment. In addition to the nutritious meals in the dining rooms, there are on-site fitness centers with classes, pools and even personal trainers, Roques says.

The center also has a new “Cooking with the Doc” class to learn about creating healthy meals and the
nutritional benefits they provide.

“Say we have a class that has to do with growing herbs; it’s not just about that,” Roques says. “Maybe you have hypertension and maybe you are pre-diabetic. We don’t want to start with the message that you’ve got to reduce your salt intake, because that’s something people don’t want to hear. Instead we make it fun. So, while the class does help reduce your salt intake, you are also learning about how to plant these different herbs and about healthier ways to season your food.”

On-site, there are also meditation classes, support groups and wellness check-ins to monitor a participant’s vital signs as well as track weight, blood pressure and other health-status markers. Participants can also get their sweat on with fitness classes such as qigong, Zumba and tai chi, Roques says.

Finding help
Phyllis Becoat, 68, had been regularly attending Wise & Well for its art and exercise classes when she suddenly suffered a stroke. As a result, her recovery was punctuated by persistent fatigue and memory-loss problems, which dramatically affected her ability to pay bills and do simple tasks such as grocery shopping or counting change.

The Baltimore resident isn’t alone. As adults age, up to 20 percent may need help with the necessary activities of daily living, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For a while, Beacoat thought she was always going to need assistance with day-to-day tasks. Then she enrolled in the Brain Wise courses at Keswick—specialty boot-camp sessions tailored to enhance mental sharpness through presentations, exercises and games, among other activities.

Now a few months later, she says that she “finally feels like herself again.” In addition to the brain games, Beacoat regularly takes the art classes offered on Fridays, as well as some exercise and cooking classes.

“After completing the brain games, I can order online, pay my bills and go to the grocery store by myself,” she says. “I have increased my scores on the B-CAT (a memory test used by the medical community), and I have created some really neat artwork. If I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. I still have a little trouble, but I am learning every day. These classes have really helped me. They gave me my confidence back, and that’s so important.”

Another important class the center offers? Stepping on Falls Prevention. Seniors who have experienced a slip or fall know that it not only shook their confidence, but made them fearful of  a repeat, Roques says.

The class helps to reduce the risk with advice from community experts and physical therapists, who share tips on how to stay steady on your feet and keep up your strength and balance to live well at home.

“I took a stepping class about fall prevention when they first offered it, and I loved that they are so attentive and so knowledgeable. I learned a lot,” Strand-Jackson, the belly dancer, says Wise & Well also offers “connections over coffee,” a monthly event where community members gather to discuss entrepreneurial and financial goals.

There is also a workshop on “navigating life’s currents,” which is part book club, part discussion and part therapy, where members can converse on how to flourish as they live well in their silver years.  The cost of the program is a yearly $60 fee, which includes many health, fitness, financial and safety courses, as well as access to a Wise & Well coach.

Additional classes are provided at a low cost to members.

“You have the opportunity to create some great connections and friendships at Keswick,” Roques says. “That’s really what it’s all about. We are not only trying to keep you healthy, we are trying to create a real sense of community here.”

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