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'Their lives are not over': Activity program is essential to Rice Care services

Ruth Hanson, left, and Gladys Palm hand out treats Wednesday to children, including little pumpkin Taden Hamstad, 1, of Pennock, during a Halloween event at the Rice Care Center in Willmar. Proceeds from this year's Rice Health Foundation's gala will be used to create an activity center at the nursing home. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- There are many opportunities for residents of the Rice Care Center to keep their hands and minds busy, from group sing-alongs to exercise classes to a Christmas cookie exchange.

The skilled nursing facility's activity program helps combat the boredom, loneliness and loss of purpose that can happen when someone enters a nursing home.

Rice Care Center leaders see the activity program as a key element in the care they provide -- which is why they're looking forward to enhancing it with the help of funds raised at the Rice Health Foundation's annual gala Nov. 9 and 10.

Money from the event, the nonprofit foundation's main fundraiser of the year, will be used to create an activity center at the nursing home where residents can gather and feel they're part of a community.

"It's for the whole facility," said Troy Barrick, Rice Care Center administrator. "It adds a lot of dedicated space we don't already have."

The activity center is part of an overall two-year, $5 million renovation to update the facility and trade its institutional environment for smaller-scale residential "neighborhoods."

The bare bones for a central activity area are included in the construction budget but furnishings are not, Barrick said.

Funds raised at the gala will be spent on wall and floor coverings, acoustics and furniture to create a space that's welcoming for residents, their families and visitors.

Activity programs are vital for helping long-term care residents remain active and engaged, said Mardelle Bridgland, activities director at Rice Care Center.

"It's very beneficial to healthy aging, more now than ever," she said. "It's to help people make those connections, to have those friendships and activities, to interact and socialize."

Studies increasingly show that when older adults stay physically and mentally active, they're healthier and enjoy greater well-being, she said. "We can provide meaningful tasks that residents can work on every day."

The activities program at the Rice Care Center offers exercise classes, musical entertainment, intergenerational parties, fishing trips and outings to baseball games. There are word games to help residents with cognitive stimulation and on-site worship services that allow them to stay connected with their church and spirituality even when they can no longer physically attend church.

A popular activity is a coupon-clipping club, Bridgland said. "You would be amazed how they look forward to that. It gives them purpose."

Socializing and laughing together are important and therapeutic for people of all ages but can be especially beneficial in long-term care, she said. "Friendships are always evolving throughout our whole life. Just because they're in a nursing home does not mean they can't form new friendships. Their lives are not over."

As the baby-boom generation ages, activity programs at nursing homes will continue to evolve to meet changing needs, Bridgland said.

Barrick said the activity center will be developed during the final renovation phase, which starts in the fall of 2013.

Rice Care Center employees are showing their support for the Rice Health Foundation gala by donating a personal chef for the day and a day at the Rice Care Center Therapy Suites as silent auction items.

"It's been a very long time coming," Barrick said of the improvements to the Rice Care Center. "It'll be very nice to change our culture from institutional to a neighborhood concept."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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