November 5, 2008
Erin McPhee

When it comes to the health and wellness of their residents, staff of retirement communities on the North Shore are stepping it up a notch.

Staying on top of the latest research and trends, they’re continuing to implement programs that meet both the physical and emotional needs of residents.

“Recreation has always been part of any kind of retirement residence,” says Jane Ritchie, marketing and sales manager of The Summerhill, one of the North Shore’s many retirement communities.

However, today’s residences are a hive of activity, seeing individuals engage in a variety of recreational activities from nordic pole walking excursions to Wii fitness classes.

“When I take people on a tour here, they’re always stunned at how busy everybody seems to be,” says Ritchie.

The Summerhill offers a wide-range of programming, including a personal training program that’s proving to be incredibly popular among residents, says Becky Toppings, recreation manager. After getting a doctor’s approval, a staff kinesiologist assesses each resident and creates a customized fitness plan. Since its launch just over a year ago, participation in the program has nearly doubled.

In addition, every month Toppings puts together a calendar jam-packed with classes and activities. Examples of offerings include a group exercise class run three days per week. “We work on balance, endurance, strength, flexibility and just overall range of motion within their body,” she says.

Tai chi is another option for residents, as well as playing Wii, a program implemented in September. Twice weekly, residents can play Wii Sports, which features bowling, baseball, golf, tennis and boxing. “When you play say golf, you’re actually swinging your arms, so it feels like you’re actually playing,” says Toppings, of the interactive Nintendo program.

The Summerhill also offers Posit Science, a brain fitness program.

Another of the many retirement residences on the North Shore is the Amica at West Vancouver. “What our big goal is, is we want to make (residents’) time here enjoyable, we want to stimulate them in any way possible,” says Christina Panchuk, wellness and vitality co-ordinator.

That approach is played out through a number of components under the umbrella of their Wellness and Vitality program, including MPower, a customized strength training and exercise program. “We work on (residents) one-on-one to really focus on what will benefit the senior,” says Panchuk.

Like The Summerhill’s personal training program, a doctor’s note is required for the participation in the program, which incorporates machine workouts, free weights, elastic resistance bands, balance exercises and bodyweight exercises.

The Amica’s monthly activity calendar is also full with an array of offerings like fitness classes of varying degrees of intensity including seated and gentle, catering to those who might be in rehabilitation or have more limited mobility; as well as yoga, tai chi, Nordic pole walking and the Wii program.

“We try to have it so there’s something going on almost all the time,” says Panchuk, adding that all classes are led by fully trained staff members.

In addition to what’s offered in-house, staff of both facilities arrange for constant excursions. The Summerhill has a chauffeur service which takes residents to various appointments, as well they arrange for a few bus trips a week to attractions within the Lower Mainland, as well as to places like Hope or Vancouver Island, says Toppings.

At the Amica, their 18-passenger bus is deployed on average five out of the seven days of the week, taking residents on scenic drives, to museums, bird sanctuaries, malls or out for dinner, for example.

The benefits of their recreation programs are proving to be widespread. Toppings says The Summerhill’s personal training program is improving residents’ ability to perform every-day tasks by increasing their range of motion. At both communities staff have seen residents go from needing walkers to being able to walk on their own.

As well, representatives of both communities say their programs are helping to create social bonds amongst residents, and is empowering them to organize their own activities and is providing an access point for family and friends to get involved.

An added bonus is the vibrancy of the communities is helping to keep staff energized. “If you have a staff member who thinks of a program that they want to do, they’re going to be happy and motivated because it’s their idea and it’s something they’re looking forward to,” says Panchuk. “When you have a staff member that’s fully engaged and energized about something they’re going to pass that onto the residents.”

For more information on The Summerhill Retirement Residence, visit For more information on the Amica at West Vancouver, visit