Physical Activity: A Prescription for Life
As individuals age, activity levels significantly decline. Many older adults lose their ability to function on their own and are left dependent on others for their needs or on adaptive equipment. This way of living is changing though, due to a company called InnovAge, whose mission is to “sustain and enhance the independence and quality of life for those [they] serve”. InnovAge is the second largest PACE (Program for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) provider in the country, serving more than 3,300 PACE participants every day in eight centers across three states. PACE is primarily designed for seniors who are on both Medicare and Medicaid. Their services include, but are not limited to, in-home services, day programs, nutritional programming, on-site full-service medical services, and dementia care. The most recent addition to the company, and one of their fastest growing services, is their Clinical Exercise Services Department.
Created by Steven Jones, an ACSM clinical exercise physiologist and an EIM Level III credentialed professional, the exercise programs offered by InnovAge are changing the lives of older adults in significant ways. The program began as a result of identifying a serious need: a lack of physical activity in the older adult population to help manage chronic conditions. To address this, Mr. Jones proposed to address the needs of the older adult community by offering a unique series of physical activity and exercise programming. What began in a small room within minimal equipment has now evolved into a growing and highly sought after service that will be expanding to all of the InnovAge’s centers, throughout Colorado, New Mexico, and California.
The exercise programming is fully integrated with their electronic medical record (EMR) system. Onsite physicians assess the medical condition of their older adult patients at InnovAge every six months. If a chronic condition is identified that physical activity can assist in managing, an order is sent to the clinical exercise program. Data is collected throughout the process so that both the exercise professional and the physician can track the patient’s current progress. Patients are brought in for a consultation that utilizes the health belief model of behavior change to address multiple areas of their health behavior, including exercise. Participants are put through a battery of exercise tests, in accordance with ACSM guidelines, and an individualized exercise program is developed to meet their needs.
There are currently 95 older adults who have received an order for exercise at the Denver location, with approximately 30 of these individuals attending consultations and assessments per day. Within eight months of the launch of the program, patients engaging in the exercise program have seen significant improvements in their physical functioning, a reduced need for adaptive equipment, as well as a decrease in, or elimination of, prescription medications for patients with Type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The program has also led to a decrease in the utilization of services required by the older adults as they regain their independence. The latest addition to the program, chronic illness education, focuses on building self-efficacy and behavior modification strategies with daily group classes to keep patients motivated and focused on the whole self, not just the clinical aspect of the programming.
The exercise programs offered at InnovAge have demonstrated the importance of physical activity as a regular part of the lives of older adults and how this can be achieved through referrals from physicians to exercise professionals. Programs like this will certainly continue to grow in demand as the need for physical activity grows within our aging population. These exercise programs will soon be expanded to other InnovAge locations around the country in the hopes of sharing these benefits with a greater number of older adults. The long-term goal is for these exercise programs to one day be covered by insurance for all individuals.