Slowly, carefully, and with the utmost concentration, Jack Hamm, 84, pushed his walker down the center aisle of Westminster Gardens’ residents meeting. It took him awhile, and he could feel everyone’s eyes following him, but he had something important to say.
When he reached the front, he turned to face his audience, standing tall and strong with a huge grin on his face. “I don’t need this anymore!” he announced, and flung the metal mobility aid across the room with a dramatic flourish.
Even now, he laughs when he thinks of that moment. “I really put on an act,” he chuckles mischievously. “I was hobbling down that aisle!”
It’s a big change from the days before he arrived at Westminster Gardens, the be.group community in Duarte, Calif.
Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis take toll on mobility
After 42 years as a master machinist, Jack spent the first 15 years of his retirement perfecting his golf swing. He and his wife Dottie still lived in the Pasadena, Calif., bungalow where they raised their six children. But over time, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and years of working on his feet eventually made golfing, and even standing or walking, increasingly difficult. He’d had one knee replaced and six operations to replace cartilage in his hands before Dottie fell and broke her ankle about five years ago.
Given the steps in their home, their daughter suggested that he and Dottie look for a new place to live. Jack wasn’t too keen on the idea until they drove through the front gate at Westminster Gardens. All the residences were single-story, and Dottie fell in love with the garden homes. They moved in shortly after their visit.
As part of their orientation, all new residents come into the community’s clinic for a full assessment of any physical challenges they have that may require additional support. Community staff can then immediately connect them with helpful activities or therapies.
Letting his social nature take the lead, Jack quickly immersed himself in Westminster Gardens’ many activities and outings, from workouts and swimming to entertainment or just making the rounds at dinner to chat with his fellow residents. Today, he runs the resident meetings and is planning the community’s second annual Oktoberfest celebration.
Reg Webster, fitness director at White Sands La Jolla, be.group’s sister residence in La Jolla, Calif., says such social opportunities can be as much of a mobility boost for residents as the community’s formal classes, physical therapy or expert care. “The fact that the resident wants to be a part of the community as independently as possible results in more physical activity,” he explains. Residents walk to dinner together as well as sharing social activities, outings and wellness programs because “they want to make the most of their surroundings,” he says. Strength and mobility are byproducts.
Jack had his second knee replaced about six months after he moved to Westminster Gardens, and today he has a three-wheeled walker he pulls out for day trips when he knows he’ll be standing or walking for awhile. In a few months he’ll have both hips replaced and hopes to put even the three-wheeler permanently aside after that. “I’ll tap dance for the talent show [next year],” he promises with another laugh. “That’s my goal.”
For mobility tips from Reg Webster, read “Q&A: How Can I Get My Mobility Back?” on our sister site, MySilverAge.
—By Jessica Royer Ocken