It’s first thing on a Monday morning, and the Camelia Lounge at Metlifecare is brimming with elderly residents awaiting the arrival of third year Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science students from UCOL | Te Pūkenga.
Movers, they’ve signed up for a twice weekly, 10 week programme of functional fitness classes designed to help them with everyday activities like getting in and out of a car, balancing, and getting dressed.
The morning starts with each student being assigned to two elderly clients to perform a health check. They take detailed notes as they chat with the residents about how they’re feeling, how they slept, and their health conditions, as well as take their blood pressure.
Metlife resident Barry Slade having his blood pressure taken.
At 10am a student welcomes everyone and announces the morning’s warm-up activity: hot potato. Not many have heard of the ball game, so she briefly explains and says, “…if you drop the ball, you’re out.” UCOL | Te Pūkenga Exercise and Wellness
Lecturer, Suzanne Charles gently interjects, “I think there will be a lot of ball dropping, so how about if you drop the ball you’re assigned a letter; six drops spells ‘donkey’.”
Within a few minutes, chairs are reshuffled into circles where two balls fly between residents and students, sometimes two at a time. Laughter fills the room as students drop the balls just as much as the residents.
Even though the game is a gentle warm-up, students are carefully observing the residents in their circle and making adjustments, as required. One group swaps out their baseball-size balls for a 15cm rubber ball, so it can be seen by a sight-impaired member of their group.
Following the warm-up, residents move to their seats on the perimeter of the room and a circuit begins. All 13 exercises have been designed by the students to help with everyday tasks, and range from leg lifts, scrunching up scarves, to balancing a cup on a tray in one hand whilst walking around the room.
Lecturers Suzanne Charles and Teresa Shailer are proud of the students’ work.
“Some students have really come out of their shells as a result of working with the elderly,” says Suzanne.
“It’s been so beneficial coming here. Up until 2016 students were undertaking this course by testing each other in the gym. They’re mostly healthy, and some are elite athletes.”
“In 2017 we came to Metlife Care and started a functional exercise programme with the residents based on Exercise and Sport Science Australia
(ESSA)’s clinical testing of the elderly. It went so well, we’ve expanded the programme by inviting more residents and we adapt our sessions as the 10 weeks progress to ensure maximum benefit for the elderly participants.”
In each session a student works with different residents, so by the time the practicum is complete, they’ve all had experience working with at least two elderly with specific health concerns they’ve learnt about in their studies.
Founding participant and former primary school teacher, assistant principal and reading recovery teacher, Anne Cheer (age 84) find the sessions revitalising. “Just because we’ve got an age tag, doesn’t mean we’re different from anybody else. I walk 2km every day, and up until last year, I was also doing aerobics. Residents here don’t realise that by being active, it helps your mind, it helps everything.”
Anne underwent a hip replacement a few weeks prior to the start of this year’s Metlife Movers. She was determined to come along, to be part of the sessions, even if she had to quietly sit them out during her recovery. She says, “The exercises have loosened me up. I’m sure they’ve sped up my recovery. My mobility is good now. I confidently get around just with a walking stick at Metlife, and I only take my walker when I go into town. It’s unfortunate that hip replacement patients don’t get access to rehabilitation following surgery. It really helps.”
Metlife resident Anne Cheer scrunching a scarf. Metlife residents Barry Slade and Anne Cheer lifting weights.
Eighty-eight-year-old resident and former Teachers’ College teacher, Margaret Tate says, “Coming along has huge social benefits. When you age, you slow down; we have to make an effort not to become isolated. Sometimes it’s as simple as moving a chair into the hallway, so we can chat with friends. Seeing young people at Metlife is very heartening.”
Glancing around the room at the Metlife Movers earnestly lifting small weights, balancing on one leg, and stretching their limbs with rubber bands, age and health issues seem to take a back seat. Yet, three of today’s participants are in their 90s, including Sister Helena, who loves telling us about her birthday – 23-11-23.
UCOL | Te Pūkenga student, aspiring Olympic long jumper and member of the UCOL | Te Pūkenga Olympic Weightlifting Club, Vikas Nautiyal is enjoying Metlife Movers. He says that it’s challenging to determine how hard the elderly participants are working. Using heart rate as a guide doesn’t help, as it doesn’t tend to change due to some of their medications, even though participants show signs of physical exertion.
“So, we have to go by facial expression and RPE, ” says Vikas. RPE is a 6-20 rating system, whereby participants point to a number relating to how easy or difficult the exercises feel.
UCOL | Te Pūkenga students enjoy playing hot potato with Metlife residents. (Vikas Nautiyal is pictured on the right)
Suzanne Charles reflects on today’s session saying, “It’s so heart-warming working with the residents. Even the ones who find it difficult, still want to try. They’re actually really competitive.”