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Improving the lives of older adults during National Therapeutic Recreation Month

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Photo submitted PACE participant Vicki and art instructor Lewis Williams consult on an art project at the PACE day center in Montrose.

Therapeutic recreation is a practice of utilizing a wide range of activities and interventions to improve physical, emotional, cognitive, social and leisure skills for a wide range of individuals. The intervention is personalized and based on a person's past, present and future leisure lifestyle.

The practice is recognized and honored in February as National Therapeutic Recreation Month. The National Therapeutic Recreation Society established National Therapeutic Recreation Week in 1984, which has now evolved into a month-long recognition.

Therapeutic recreation programs are managed and led by a certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS).

Senior CommUnity Care, a program of Volunteers of America, which runs the program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), has been utilizing the specialized treatment plans of a CTRS since 2010.

Anne Johnson serves as Volunteers of America's regional CTRS consultant and manager for Senior CommUnity Care. Johnson has a team of coordinators and assistants to help serve the program's 305 participants in the two county area.

"We focus on the abilities, not the disabilities," Johnson said. "We treat the whole person using a variety of modalities including arts, music, dance, sports, games, education sessions and community reintegration to help maintain or improve an individual's physical, spiritual, social and emotional well being."

Senior CommUnity Care works with adults aged 55 or older who are state qualified for nursing home level care, but who with the help of the PACE program are able to continue to live in their own homes.

"It is the right and desire of people of all abilities and ages to experience activities of their own personal choice," Johnson said. "With appropriate risk management older adults can have the opportunity to experience therapeutic adventure recreation and its consequent benefits."

A program of therapeutic recreation is designed to achieve the following goals: increased independence and self-esteem promote health and wellness, develop skills that carry over into the community, promote socialization and a sense of community, exposure to new activities, community reintegration, development of a healthy leisure lifestyle and ongoing education.

"We are able to achieve these goals by taking the time to find out what each older adult in our program is truly interested in. For example, that may be a desire to try ballroom dancing, experiment with photography, learning how to play pool or knitting or wood working. Or it may involve outdoor walking tours, visiting museums, taking a jeep tour into the mountains, or flying in an airplane. There are so many possibilities," Johnson said. "We want to make those desires a reality within a healthy, supported environment."

Program participants don't just perform a task they are given. Johnson stated the program offers activities which are truly engaging and emphasize the right to take a risk in an environment of dignity and respect.

"With thorough planning, older adults can experience stimulating therapeutic recreation activities and adventures and the consequent benefits."

To become a CTRS, one must obtain a bachelor of science degree or higher from an accredited university with academic studies focusing on physical, biological and behavioral sciences, recreation and leisure theory. After that, a three-month internship comprised of 560 hours at a nationally accredited organization must be completed along with successful completion of the National Therapeutic Recreation certification exam.

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