The Challenge Center Connects Seniors Through Movement

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Posted: February 1, 2021
Category: SDSCF Blog

“I’m such a social person and am out of my house more than not. Being in lock down sent me in a pretty depressing state. I never really understood people who suffered from depression but this quarantine has made me realize not only that it is a real thing but how not being around others really affected my day-to-day life. I’m so happy to have you open and a place to get out and go to again, “ said Lainey, a client of the Challenge Center in La Mesa. 

According to Tiffany Piquilloud PT, NCS, Executive Director and senior physical therapist of the Challenge Center, Lainey lives alone and is a life-long wheelchair user. After reopening some of the center’s classes outdoors, with grant support from our No Senior Alone initiative, they are happy to have her back and see her smile again. 

“It is sad but true for many of our clients, their fellow participants and our staff are the only people they see for more than a few minutes all week. Nearly half of our class members stopped by at some point while classes were suspended. Some to drop off treats, some to make donations, and some to say hello,” said Piquilloud, describing what it was like while the center’s classes were at a pause. 

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, 95% of clients at the Challenge Center maintained or improved their functional status over a year, and for many clients, this is true for over multiple years. However, in just 16 weeks of being deprived access to Challenge Center services, 70% of clients suffered a significant decline in functional dependence and/or fitness. 

an older man is supported by a therapist during a balance and conditioning class at the Challenge Center
A therapist helps a client perform movements in a balance and conditioning class at The Challenge Center.

Once the center’s programs were allowed to resume, within 4 months over 92% of clients who had lost function regained or surpassed their pre-COVID functional independence and/or fitness levels. 

After seeing these results, it became strikingly clear to the team at the Challenge Center the lack of social interaction during the shutdown and the resumption of those close relationships the clients have with staff and to each other was a huge factor in both the decline and recovery clients experienced. Now and even before the pandemic, the Challenge Center has considered social interaction and peer support to be integral to their work. 

Seniors exercise outdoors in the Challenge Center's balance and conditioning class
Clients enjoy opportunities for exercise and social interaction in The Challenge Center’s outdoor classes.

“We had to do something to get them moving again for their physical health and together again, for their mental health,” said Piquilloud. 

These sentiments are what motivated the Challenge Center to apply for the No Senior Alone grant, which went toward supporting additional staffing and equipment costs required to be able to move their classes outdoors so they could be resumed safely. Particularly, the Challenge Center’s balance and conditioning class has seen great success. In September 2020, the center successfully resumed the class outdoors, where they can safely oversee socially distanced instruction. Not to mention, the class provides a wonderful environment for safe socialization and peer support among the senior clients.

The balance and conditioning class is proven to measurably decrease fall risk in over 94% of participants. When it resumed in September, it was received with overwhelming delight and enthusiasm. 

In just 3 weeks, it became necessary to open up a second class to manage the demand. The center even began planning for a third and fourth class, however, these plans are on hold while the center is assessing its response to current public health orders. 

“We work very hard to earn our clients’ trust and to exceed their expectations. It was flattering and heartwarming to see that the classes that took place the day after the new public health order had not one cancellation from any client,” said Piquilloud. 

The center is hopeful that the work done to transition the balance and conditioning class outdoors will open the pathway to provide classes offsite at senior centers, senior living facilities, and community centers. Not only will this reach a broader audience and increase the center’s impact in San Diego, but also diversify revenue streams and decrease reliance on charitable donations. Additionally, Challenge Center plans to learn from the balance and conditioning class to inform their strategy for implementing a falls class pilot program outdoors in early 2021. 

Older people with disabilities and limited mobility are among our most vulnerable citizens, and we applaud the Challenge Center’s hard work and dedication to helping them live independent, fulfilling lives. Hearing about the many clients who stopped by just to say hello reminds us how vital human connection is and why the work we’re doing as a foundation matters. Thank you to Tiffany and everyone at the Challenge Center for all that you’re doing.

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