Tai Chi for Health: Meditation in Motion

Movements with names referring to nature, such as “Waving Hands in the Clouds” and “Push the Mountain” … Music that evokes feelings of calmness and clarity … Repetition that builds inner strength, trains balance, and promotes mindfulness of movement and surroundings … Welcome to Tai Chi for Health offered by Blair Senior Services, Inc.! Tai Chi for Health is an evidence-based program developed by Dr. Paul Lam, who is a family physician, a Tai Chi practitioner and teacher of over 40 years, and a world leader in the field of Tai Chi for Health improvement. It’s one of the many programs offered by Blair Senior Services, Inc. to help individuals over the age of 60 improve their overall health and wellness and live a healthy lifestyle.

Amy Williamson and Scott Moyer are Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Tai Chi instructors. They have been leading classes in Blair County for almost two years now. The classes are designed for beginners to learn the moves and gain health benefits safely and relatively quickly. “That’s the great thing about this program,” Amy explained. “When Dr. Lam first turned to Tai Chi to help manage his severe arthritis, it took him three years to learn the complex, high-risk moves, and to start to see any health benefits. He realized this was too long, so he worked with a team of medical professionals and Tai Chi experts to develop a program with movements that are easier to learn, safer, and more effective for health.”

Although Tai Chi originated in ancient China as a martial art with many complex moves, it isn’t your “typical” martial art. “Tai Chi for Health is not like karate,” Scott noted. “We don’t break boards and we definitely don’t throw anyone over our shoulders! There’s absolutely no physical contact, and we never get down on the floor, either.” It’s a mind-body exercise that integrates slow, flowing movements with breathing and cognitive skills. “Because of this,” noted Amy, “Tai Chi is sometimes called ‘meditation in motion.’” Most people practice Tai Chi today for its health and relaxation benefits. “It encourages us to slow down, focus inward, and re-connect and re-balance our body and our mind.”

Unlike most other exercises, where pushing harder and going faster is the goal, Tai Chi moves look deceptively slow and gentle. “But don’t underestimate them,” said Scott, “the movements improve muscle strength from within, which gives better support for the entire body.” This form of exercise has been gaining popularity in the United States for many years now. “Tai Chi for Health is practiced worldwide by over 5 million people each day,” noted Amy. One aspect that makes it so popular is that it is a gentle exercise, so anyone can try Tai Chi. “Almost anyone of any fitness level can practice and gain the benefits of Tai Chi in a relatively short period of time,” Scott said. “In fact, you can even be seated and realize the health benefits of the program.”

Over 500 medical studies by organizations such as Stanford University and Harvard Medical School have proven the many health benefits of Tai Chi, and more than 30 of those studies were based specifically on the Tai Chi for Health program offered through Blair Senior Services, Inc. “This program is also supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as arthritis foundations worldwide,” shared Scott. Studies have shown that Tai Chi enhances flexibility, gently frees up stiff joints and helps to relieve pain, which can improve the ability to do daily tasks.

“We also focus on upright body alignment while we’re practicing Tai Chi,” Amy explained. “Good posture, among many other health benefits, is shown by studies to make you feel more positive and boost confidence, and when you feel positive and confident, it increases your chance of success in whatever the task by 20%!” One of Tai Chi’s greatest potential benefits is improving your balance, which can aid in fall prevention. “Over 1 in 3 individuals over age 65 fall each year, so practicing Tai Chi is a great way to potentially prevent this from happening.”

Tai Chi for Health classes begin with a series of warm-up exercises that work from the neck down to the ankles, gently stretching and loosening up the joints, and helping to calm and focus the mind. “These warm-ups are really necessary to loosen up our body and to quiet our mind before we begin practicing,” Scott said. Participants are encouraged to always stay within their comfort zone and modify the moves to suit their individual range of motion.

Tai Chi can be practiced at any time of the day that works for you. Many participants enjoy starting their day with Tai Chi, others use it to help unwind at the end of the day. “Some have said they do the warm-ups at night as a bedtime routine to help them relax and prepare for rest,” shared Amy. “It’s wonderful to hear that participants are integrating Tai Chi into their wellness routine!”

Participants really enjoy this relaxing and slow-moving form of exercise. “Some have remarked before class, ‘I really need this today,’ as they share what’s going on in their life at that moment,” Amy said. Tai Chi helps to relieve stress, leads to a feeling of peacefulness, and in general, is just an enjoyable practice. There’s a real sense of camaraderie in the classes. “Each group gets along so well. Before the classes start, they’re catching up with each other and asking how their week was. It’s a really good feeling to be part of such a great group,” Scott remarked. Amy agreed, sharing, “We kind of become a Tai Chi family. Every group that we’ve taught has been like this. It’s been wonderful.”

Scott and Amy started out instructing Beginner and Advanced classes and have created a third level due to participant interest. Focusing on the principles of Tai Chi, “the ‘Continuing Your Journey’ class has gone over very well,” Amy said. “Scott and I enjoy researching and preparing for the class, and helping the participants deepen their practice of Tai Chi.” They also incorporate some of the cultural background of Tai Chi into the “Continuing Your Journey” class. “To add to the experience, we try to include pieces of Chinese culture. Scott went on a trip to China a few years ago, so he’ll bring in items such as artwork or coins to talk about. We try to keep things interesting and fresh for the participants,” explained Amy. “At our current ‘Journey’ class at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, the librarian will bring in books on Tai Chi, China, and related topics for us to peruse before or after class. That’s been a really nice bonus.” Scott and Amy also try to incorporate some of the language into the classes as well. “At the beginning of class, we ask everyone to walk around and greet each other, saying ‘Ni hao,’ or ‘hello’ in Chinese,’” Scott shared. “It’s a great way to start the class. It gets everyone smiling!”

At the end of each class, Amy reads an uplifting positive thought or quote for the day. “One of my favorite sayings right now is, ‘One Day…or Day One!’ It’s your choice! Just reversing the order of those two little words can change your life in a positive way. If you’ve been putting off trying Tai Chi and saying, ‘One day I’ll start…’ decide to make today Day One of your Tai Chi journey!” suggested Amy. Scott and Amy encourage anyone to try Tai Chi, and for those who have already taken a course, they welcome you to come back and learn more. “People can take these classes as many times as they want,” Amy shared. “We have participants who are on their fourth round of classes and are gleaning details they hadn’t noticed before, or are focusing more on integrating the principles of Tai Chi. There are so many layers to Tai Chi that the more you practice, the more depth you can add.”

Every two years, instructors must get re-certified in the Tai Chi for Health program. So, as the instructors continue to grow in their knowledge and understanding of Tai Chi, the program at Blair Senior Services, Inc. will continue to grow as well. “We’ve had such an interest in expanding and learning more about Tai Chi from many of the participants,” shared Angel Dandrea, Volunteer Program Supervisor. “It’s a really exciting time for those who are considering joining Tai Chi or those who are already on their journey.”

Tai Chi for Health at Blair Senior Services, Inc. is free for adults 60 years of age or older and their caregivers (with the participant). Amy and Scott are also teaching other evidence-based classes, including fall prevention workshops, and “Living a Healthier Life with Chronic Conditions”, a self-management workshop which starts on Wednesday, January 15th from 1:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. at the Bellwood-Antis Public Library. “All of these programs can have such a positive impact on each participant’s health and well-being,” Amy said. “It’s so rewarding to be a part of it.”

Disclaimer: Information contained in this article was taken from the publishing and teachings of Dr. Paul Lam.

For more information on Tai Chi for Health or other evidence-based classes, please contact Blair Senior Services, Inc. at (814) 946-1235 or toll-free at (800) 245-3282, or visit blairsenior.org and Blair Senior Services, Inc. Facebook page for a schedule of classes.

Celebrating 45 Years of Growing With You

Blair Senior Services, Inc. has been forging a path to becoming Blair County’s resource center for older adults and their families since 1974.

“As Blair Senior Services, Inc. celebrates its 45 years of service provision, it is a good opportunity to provide background information about the present and future,” President of Blair Senior Services, Inc., Steve Williamson said. “We are a non-profit social service agency that is primarily funded by the government to serve as a safety net for individuals we have been designated to serve. In terms of formal designations, we serve as the Area Agency on Aging, the local Shared Ride provider and the local MATP provider,” Williamson shared.

Offering 27 programs and services, older adults and their families no longer have to wonder where their loved ones will be getting their needed nutrition or how they are going to get the care they need… Blair Senior Services, Inc. is here to serve.

“We view the services as a continuum that starts when people least need us and can participate in a number of activities with no assistance beyond the Agency simply providing an opportunity to participate. The other end of the spectrum includes the provision of in-home services to assist with activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, grooming, etc.). Our goal is to have folks involved and/or familiar with our services prior to needing them or to use the services available on the front end of the spectrum to delay or avoid the need for more intensive services further along the services spectrum,” Williamson said.

Over the course of the past five years since the 40th Anniversary, Blair Senior Services, Inc. has had a makeover! It has received a new, more recognizable logo, as well as a new Facebook page and a new website where you can find information on any program or service that they offer. Seasons Magazine, published quarterly, was given a fresh new design layout to make it even easier to read all of the lifestyle and senior living news featured in every issue. These cosmetic changes are only the first layer to the great things happening at Blair Senior Services, Inc.!

Throughout Blair County, the most recognizable part of Blair Senior Services, Inc. may be their fleet of transportation vans. The vans run Monday through Friday to ensure older adults and residents of Blair County have a reliable form of transportation year-round. Since the beginning of Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Transportation Program, they have expanded their fleet to nearly 40 vans, adding two vans most recently during 2018. At the Transportation Hub located in Hollidaysburg, approximately 500 to 600 dispatch calls are answered daily! During the 2018-2019 program year, 112,866 total trips were given to 2,716 consumers. Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s consumers can depend on the Transportation Program to safely transport them to doctor’s visits, run errands, visit family, and more!

Physical and emotional health are important to Blair Senior Services, Inc. The Agency provides multiple opportunities for older adults to have socialization, exercise, relaxation and feelings of achievement throughout several different programs. Through the four Senior Centers located throughout Blair County, older adults have daily opportunities to socialize with other adults, share in a congregate meal, participate in exercise classes and spend some time learning new things to better their quality of life. During the 2018-2019 program year, the four Senior Centers, Central Blair Senior Center (Altoona); Northern Blair Senior Center (Tyrone); Southern Blair Senior Center (East Freedom); and Williamsburg Senior Center (Williamsburg), welcomed 74,995 visits from older adults. The Senior Centers are proud to offer multiple exercise classes, with varying difficulty levels, to ensure every participant has the opportunity to join in and have some fun!

Older adults in Blair County have also taken advantage of the Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion Programs since their introduction in the 1980s. These volunteer programs offer a great opportunity for socialization and provide a rewarding experience for older adults in the area looking for “something more.” During the 2018-2019 program year, there were 56 volunteers in the Foster Grandparent Program that served 53,288 hours. In the Senior Companion Program, there were 66 volunteers that served 52,514 hours. Between both programs, volunteers served 105,802 volunteer hours assisting local seniors and children in need. These programs help to further enhance Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s positive impact in the community by offering Foster Grandparent volunteer services to assist children in schools and day cares as well as Senior Companion volunteer services to assist other area older adults with daily activities.

Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s main goal is to enrich the quality of life and ensure the safety of its consumers and older adults in Blair County, which is why programs such as Home Delivered Meals, APPRISE, and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) are offered. The Home Delivered Meals Program, also known as “Meals on Wheels,” provides hot, nutritious meals to older adults in the Blair County region. In the 2018-2019 program year, Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered 125,840 meals to 960 consumers. With this program, Blair County residents age 60 or older no longer have to worry about acquiring nutritious meals.

One of the biggest concerns for older adults is navigating Medicare and other health insurance options. Blair Senior Services, Inc. understands this need, which is why it offers free health insurance counseling through the APPRISE Program. Through the APPRISE Program, Medicare beneficiaries can make the best decision possible when it comes to their health insurance. During the 2018-2019 program year, 2,318 individuals received health insurance counseling through the APPRISE Program at Blair Senior Services, Inc. With this program, Blair Senior Services, Inc. can continue to be a great resource assisting older adults in the region with navigating health insurance options.

Along with assisting older adults with navigating health insurance options, Blair Senior Services, Inc. offers appointments each year to eligible older adults who need assistance with income tax preparation when income tax season rolls around. As adults age, they can receive multiple sources of income, like Social Security or pensions, which can make income taxes very difficult. Not only can older adults have multiple sources of income, they may also have plenty of deductible expenses that they are unaware of. The VITA Program offers income tax assistance, but it also offers a great rewarding volunteer experience for those who have experience in finance or tax preparation. Check out some of the great work the volunteers completed during the 2018-2019 program year in the chart on page 6!

For the past 45 years, Blair Senior Services, Inc. has been dedicated to assisting older individuals remain independent and healthy for as long as possible, but assistance doesn’t stop there. The Agency is always aiming to help those who are dependent on caregivers, receiving in-home care or those who are in a nursing facility. Whatever life throws at you, Blair Senior Services, Inc. is prepared to help you.

Through the Ombudsman Program, Ombudsmen visit over 40 long-term care facilities to check with residents to determine if their rights are being upheld, needs are being met, and if there are any unanswered concerns.
Residents of the facilities may volunteer to become advocates themselves. The Agency’s Ombudsman advocates for the rights of all residents in all long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, personal care homes, and more. In 2018, the Agency’s Ombudsman Program ended the year with 36 completed cases. They are on target to complete the same number of cases in 2019! The Ombudsman Program has reached an average of 247 facility residents per year with their Annual Resident’s Rights trainings, and an average of 54 facility staff members per year. As the Ombudsman Program continues to grow and gain awareness, residents can feel comfortable knowing that Blair Senior Services, Inc. continues to advocate for those who can’t, support those who can, and ensure all long-term care consumers live with dignity and respect.

“The vast majority of Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s funding comes from the government, with our largest source of funding being the Pennsylvania Lottery,” Williamson said. “The majority of our services are not funded with taxpayer dollars, with the Medical Assistance Programs being the exception,” he said. “This government funding has especially been flat for 10 years, while the number of older adults and the consumer price index have increased significantly,” he explained. “The reality is resources will not be enough to meet all of the identified needs. In that context, our obligation and imperative is to serve those with the greatest social and economic need.”

It is clear to see that Blair Senior Services, Inc. is dedicated to maintaining consumer’s dignity, empowering older adults to reach their potential, advocating for their health and safety and always giving older adults the respect they deserve. Blair Senior Services, Inc. has come a long way since its creation in 1974, and there will be many more dedicated years to the community and beyond.

“When compared to other states, Pennsylvania has a robust and reasonably well funded service system for older adults,” Williamson said. “Neither Blair Senior Services, Inc., nor the Aging System in Pennsylvania, can be everything for everyone, but we can be a safety net for those with the greatest need and fewest resources,” Williamson shared. “We can also offer opportunities for others to participate in preventative or wellness type activities for those that are forward thinking enough to put stereotypes aside and look to see if we have anything to offer for you.”

For more information about Blair Senior Services, Inc., its programs or services, please visit www.blairsenior.org, call 814-946-1235 and Like and Follow Blair Senior Services, Inc.’s Facebook page for updates and information.

Rewrite Your Retirement

Many working adults go through their careers anxiously waiting for retirement as they prepare for days of freedom from their jobs. They fantasize about their days at home, where they have complete control over what they do day-to-day or what they’re not going to do. It is a dream for many to reach this point, but what happens when retirement isn’t everything you may think it is?
In reality, the number of working seniors is on the rise, and there are multitudes of people “un-retiring.” Some seniors who “un-retire” lead into a career that is completely different than their previous careers. There are those who also pursue higher education or go back to further their education after coming out of retirement. Older adults who have “un-retired” have given many reasons why they have come out of retirement, with boredom being the main reason.
John “Jack” Butler retired in 2008 after 39 years of working as a Machinist with the railroad. He currently works as a Van Driver for Blair Senior Services, Inc. two days per week. About 4 years ago I started to go stir crazy. My wife hadn’t retired yet and I was home alone all day, with no one to talk to… it got lonely and I was very bored,” shared Jack. Some of the other top reasons why seniors are “un-retiring” are to supplement existing income, increase social security benefits, increase socialization, improve mental sharpness and stay active into their older adult years.

“I’m not sitting at home watching television or putting together a jigsaw puzzle,” Jack said. “Driving definitely keeps me moving.”
Along with driving two days per week, Jack volunteers at Bishop Guilfoyle High School as a full-time chaperone when going on trips to Pittsburgh, New York and beyond. He also volunteers at the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament on the Funeral Committee.
“I try to keep busy when I’m not working or volunteering. I have 11 grandkids all across the state, so with my flexible schedule it’s easy to go visit them when I need to,” Jack said.

Above all, Jack believes that the socialization aspect with the consumers is the best part. “I hear some great stories from our consumers,” he shared. “Sometimes, though, some of our consumers just need to talk to someone, we’re all they have. I know how they are feeling and I consider it my ministry here on Earth to be there for them.”
Some older adults choose not to retire altogether, working directly into their retirement years. Rick “Mac” MacIntyre has worked as a Van Driver for Blair Senior Services, Inc., for 32 years. Previously, he had worked for United Service Company, a linen service that was based out of Johnstown. MacIntyre enjoys keeping busy so he can remain mentally sharp and active.
“You must keep active,” Mac said. “Do something you enjoy and get out among people and socialize. Use it or you lose it.”
Theresa Williams, who is 69 years old, had always dreamed of being in the healthcare industry. “I was always looking to take care of someone, even pets. I love to care for my pets and my family,” Theresa stated.
When Theresa had the opportunity to become a Certified Nurses Aid (CNA) at Hillview Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, it was like a dream come true. Although this was an exciting moment in Theresa’s life, it was challenging.
“It was very high paced with a lot of long days,” she said. “My age and schedule definitely made it a challenge.”
While Theresa was completing her coursework for the CNA program, she also continued to volunteer for Blair Senior Services, Inc. as a Senior Companion, helped with activities at Hillview, and assisted with breakfast and activities at Allegany Lutheran Social Ministries (ALSM). “I don’t regret any of it though, I enjoy helping others and caring for them,” Theresa shared.
One of the things that helped motivate Theresa through her CNA coursework was some of her other classmates. “The girls I was completing the course with were 19-23 year olds and they were just so supportive and really did motivate me through the program,” Theresa said. “I am so glad to have made friendships with them. We’re going to work together at Hillview.”
With all of her accomplishments, Theresa never thought she would make it to this point. “I’m not going to lie, I doubted myself and I really let my age hold me back for a while. But older adults need to realize that they can do it and you can get a second chance at something you’ve always wanted to do,” Theresa said.
Along with keeping older adults active, “un-retiring” can open new experiences and new friendships from all generations for those considering coming out of retirement. DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and Laguna Splash along with Marianna’s Fundraisers have a large number of older adults who work for them both seasonally at the park and year-round at Marianna’s.
Joe Bilka, who works in the Security Department at DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and Laguna Splash, is in his fourth year at the park. Joe, who is 69 years old, retired as a History Teacher from Philadelphia and decided to come back to his hometown of Altoona following his retirement. A father of three and a grandfather of seven, he is currently enrolled at Penn State University to receive his masters degree in Human Development & Psychology.
Joe, like many other “un-retired” older adults, enjoys the socialization and increased activity level benefits. “I like people and keeping busy keeps me young,” Joe said.
Prior to the opening of their 2019 park season, DelGrosso’s had 534 employees that were 51 and older (17% of their current workforce) with a goal of hiring 750 older adults. Their older adults like the flexible work schedule they can have working at the amusement park.
“We always try to accommodate their schedules and needs,” shared Amy Mearkle, Director of Marketing. “The park is a really fun environment and our staff spans generations. The older adults like interacting with the younger staff and they become friends. They also take on the role of mentors with bonds that last a long time.”
Not only does having colleagues from different generations create diversity in the workplace, it also benefits each employee differently. According to an AARP online survey, older workers appreciate younger workers for their technology skills, new perspectives and creativity; whereas younger workers appreciate older workers for their wisdom and experience in navigating the workplace.
Bruce Beck, who is in his sixth season with DelGrosso’s Amusement Park and Laguna Splash, is a retired dairy farmer from Sinking Valley.
Bruce, being 59 years old, got restless at home after retirement and needed a change of pace.
“I got tired of sitting at home and doing nothing when I retired,” Bruce said.
Along with keeping busy, Bruce enjoys the connections that DelGrosso’s has provided for him.
“The friends I have made here at work are awesome,” Bruce shared. “I really enjoy being here.”
Positions available at DelGrosso’s and Marianna’s include: games, first aid, lifeguards, clean-up, ticket sales, maintenance, cash office, gift shop/retail, mascot character, food service, information booth, logistics/warehouse, customer service, security/parking and rides. In addition to competitive wages for new and returning staff, they offer flexible scheduling, employee referral program and discounts, reciprocal ride passes to select Pennsylvania amusement parks, and training.

Many of Marianna’s older adult workers enjoy their flexible schedule; employees work five-hour shifts, five days per week beginning at 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. and complete their shifts at 11 a.m. or noon.
“We’ve found a lot of the older adults like getting up early and finishing work with time left in the day to spend with family and friends,” said Amy.
To find job postings and apply, go to their website at www.delgrossos.com and follow the directions. You may apply for more than one job. If you have questions about or need assistance with the application process, you can contact their Human Resources Department at 814-684-5880.

To find volunteer and employment opportunities at Blair Senior Services, Inc., visit www.blairsenior.org or call 814-946-1235.