HENLAWSON — Often, it seems seniors and others who are in a long-term healthcare facility face days empty of social interaction or physical activities. But Dr. Ted Muilenburg, Director of Therapeutic Recreation and Leisure Studies and West Virginia State University, began a program over 25 years ago that gets nursing home residents up and moving, competing and socializing.
A Geri Olympics event was held Thursday at Trinity Healthcare of Logan. Ten residents of the facility, along with eight people from the Williamson facility, spent the afternoon outside playing golf, basketball, cornhole and other specially adapted sports.
“We are promoting wellness and active living, as well as improving the quality of life for the residents,” Dr. Muilenburg said. Dr. Muilenburg sat down with the Williamson Daily News during the event at Logan. He said Geri Olympics started in West Virginia, and has grown to include an event in Prague, the Czech Republic.
“We started with seven nursing homes and 38 participants,” Dr. Muilenburg said.
Geri Olympics has since served about 3,500 nursing home residents with 5,000 volunteers as support staff. More than 40 nursing care facilities, assisted living centers and skilled nursing care units in rural hospitals have sponsored teams.
Geri Olympics competitions take place each spring at the South Charleston Recreation Center. Athletes compete in bowling, basketball, marksmanship, golf, horseshoes, candle blowing, an obstacle course, and triathlon and wheelchair races. Traveling teams from as far as Morgantown and Lewisburg compete in the program.
Last August, WVSU was one of only three American Universities invited to present at the at the World Congress on Active Aging in Glasgow, Scotland.
Dr. Muilenburg said a program was being developed that will connect West Virginia seniors with others around this world during the holiday season.
“We are going to use Skype (a computer program that allows users to communicate by voice, video, and instant messaging over the Internet) so our people can talk to others in Prague and in Glasgow. We will share holiday traditions from all around the world.”
The event held in Logan was the result of a partnership between WVSU, Logan High School and Trinity Healthcare. Volunteers from the Eagles Nest club from Logan High worked at the event, serving as coaches, cheerleaders and event staff.
“These kids have been great,” Dr. Muilenburg said. “They are an amazing group, they truly are the cream of the crop.”
He said by traveling and meeting seniors from different countries, he has come to understand that people are more alike than they are different.
“Language is the only barrier,” Dr. Muilenburg said. “The attitudes and feelings are the same. The true value of Geri Olympics is in seeing the smiles and excitement of the nursing home residents as they enthusiastically compete, socialize and enjoy being part of their facility’s team, in spite of their disabilities and age.”