Hospital Program Keeps Payson's Seniors Active

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This April, the Senior Circle program will celebrate its fourth anniversary of encouraging health and wellness among Payson's mature population. The program, affiliated with Payson Regional Medical Center, has much to celebrate considering a 700-member increase in the past two years, as well as an expanded range of services.

Director Corey Houghton has an "open door" policy which allows local seniors to express their needs so that Senior Circle can try to fill those gaps.

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Senior Circle members practice their line dancing technique. The program offers several exercise classes including armchair aerobics, Tai Chi, belly dancing and an aquatic class.

"I constantly have people who come to me with ideas about services we could provide to the community," Houghton said.

Membership in Senior Circle is available to anyone 50 years and older at a cost of $15 per person annually, and allows access to benefits provided by the national program.

"I call it the AARP component," Houghton said. "The benefits include access to an emergency response system, prescription discounts, travel discounts and VIP treatment at any of the 60 hospitals affiliated with the Senior Circle Program."

Services the Senior Circle offers locally focus on the health and well-being of seniors.

"We all change and we are all aging -- but what do we have control over and what can we do to improve on what we do have? We know that exercise is very important and Senior Circle offers nine exercise classes and we are always trying to get people into them," Houghton said.

Offering everything from Tai Chi and line dancing to aquatics, Senior Circle hopes to impress upon seniors the need to maintain strength, balance, and to keep limber.

"A lot of seniors fall every year and get hip fractures," Houghton said. "Hospitals have around 300,000 admissions for broken hips every year and falling is most often the cause."

The first exercise class ever given by Senior Circle, armchair aerobics, was taught by Jay Scotts. "He continues to have one of the best turnouts," Houghton said. "He is so creative and the ladies that come to the class just love him."

In addition to exercise, Senior Circle has support groups and informational sessions.

"We have our diabetic support group and speaker series on the second Wednesday of every month which has over 20 people," Houghton said. "Our cancer support group meets every Friday and that is open not only to those suffering from cancer, but those in remission and family members, too."

On the last Friday of the month Senior Circle has a medical professional give a talk on different issues relating to cancer.

"Our support groups are open to anyone in the community. They cost $2 for members and $3 for non-members which is mainly for the meal that is included," Houghton said.

The "Life and Living" series deals with holistic approaches to wellness and how seniors can stay emotionally healthy.

Once a month, Houghton likes to schedule a fun class. February's class was called "Why women love chocolate" and filled up instantly. The class included a cooking demonstration.

Senior Circle's health and wellness component also includes monthly health screenings in which they test cholesterol and blood sugar levels, blood pressure, weight and other important indicators.

"Seniors are very frustrated by the changes in the health care system and they are more likely to come here where it is less threatening to them," Houghton said.

Houghton has seen at least three people whose initial screening revealed serious health conditions that eventually lead to life-saving surgeries.

Another need Houghton saw in the community was access to medical equipment not covered by insurance. Houghton, with the help of Rim Country Rotary, RTA Hospice and the Payson United Methodist Church, started a medical loan closet.

"We loan donated medical equipment such as wheelchairs, walkers, and commodes to those who need them," Houghton said.

Senior Circle welcomes donations of equipment since they are always trying to replenish their supply. They currently have 100 pieces that are on loan in the community.

"The idea is for the equipment to be kept for around 6 months to a year, so I'd like to remind anyone who still has a piece of our equipment to return it if they are no longer using it," Houghton said.

The ever-increasing cost of prescription medications Houghton sees as a big concern for seniors.

"I have a folder full of information on different prescription discount cards available," Houghton said, "And you don't have to be destitute to qualify for many of these cards."

Besides the discount cards, Houghton has information on accessing medications from Canada and India at cheaper costs.

"My job is to gather the information and give it to people so they can educate themselves and make informed decisions," Houghton said. "Sometimes just knowing what's out there can alleviate stress for seniors concerned about their budget."

Educating seniors on what resources are available was one of the holes Houghton saw in services. Thanks to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), there is an on-line service called "Benefits CheckUp," which allows seniors to see what state and federal benefits they might qualify for.

"People can come to our office and fill out a questionnaire -- name and Social Security number are not required -- and leave it with us," Houghton said. "Either I or a volunteer will go on-line and get the results, which take about a half an hour. They will get a list of all the programs with descriptions and toll-free phone numbers."

What are some of Houghton's plans for the Senior Circle in the coming year?

"We are working with AARP to have a tax center here next year," Houghton said. "One was held at the Elk's Lodge last year and they served 300 residents."

Senior Circle is currently at 215 N. Beeline Highway, but Houghton said they are looking to move to a different location because of prohibitive rent.

"We will be relocating to a building near the hospital," Houghton said. "We hope to move there by the fall."

Houghton dreams of the day when Payson could have a large community center for seniors, families, and children.

"All of the complementary programs for seniors, adults and children could be under one roof -- one-stop shopping," Houghton said.

For now, she does the best she can with her staff of devoted volunteers and a supportive board.

"I really give credit to the volunteers and the board for our increase in membership which has allowed us to broaden our services to the community," Houghton said. "My job is to continue to look for those holes."

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