First-of-its-kind facility for over 50s comes of age

18 December 2018

UQ Healthy Living offers Brisbane’s over 50s a fresh approach to healthy ageing.

The first of its kind in Brisbane, and fully resourced by UQ student practitioners, the Toowong-based community clinic is an age-inclusive facility that takes a combined professional approach to preventing age-related health issues.

Born from a need for an accessible service for Brisbane’s ageing adult population that offered an integrated model of care, UQ Healthy Living Clinical Director, Simon Whitehart said the establishment of this unique facility represents a win for client care, while offering students an invaluable interprofessional learning opportunity.

“The combined professional approach of the facility means the clinic caters not just to the physical aspects of ageing, but to the emotional, and social aspects as well,” Mr Whitehard said.

Incorporating practitioners from dietetics, exercise and sports science, clinical exercise physiology, nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, and psychology, the clinic offers a range of preventive health services under one roof, including individual and group activities designed to meet the specific needs of this population. Services are available to over 50s from the general public with no active ailments as well as those living with chronic disease.

Student practitioners work collaboratively to design individualised programs for clients, in consultation with their fully qualified clinical educators, some of whom are leading the field of healthy ageing.

Exercise is a central component of all the programs, with the clinic also offering educational sessions through six eight-week rolling programs. Programs are offered for clients with diabetes, cardiopulmonary conditions, and for those currently receiving and following cancer treatments.

Mr Whitehart said one of the key features of the clinic is its age-inclusivity, offering over 50s a space they can take ownership of and feel comfortable exercising in – a real concern for this age bracket, with limited opportunities to exercise on age-appropriate equipment in the community, and the majority of such equipment only accessible via residential aged care facilities.

Catering to all levels of fitness, from the very frail to the physically robust, the facility offers a uniquely inclusive experience for over 50s looking to improve their quality of life through fitness, with state-of-the-art strength and aerobic exercise equipment designed specifically for seniors, and proactive supervision of exercise classes.

 “Here we have a fantastic opportunity for people to access age-appropriate exercise equipment, which, when used to increase strength as part of an integrated program, can increase the length of time people can stay living in their homes and avoid aged care,” he said.

“The equipment has been designed specifically for this age bracket, and is fully age-inclusive. For example, the strength equipment has a starting load of 100g, and can be increased in 100g increments. If we compare that to standard pinloaded weight resistance machines, often the lowest starting load for those machines is too heavy for one to lift.”

The facility also caters for more robust over 50s who are looking to maintain physical fitness, offering squat racks and equipment for dead lifts.

And the facility’s clients aren’t the only group to benefit from this unique approach. The facility offers UQ students a vital interprofessional learning opportunity, with the first student placements welcomed in May of this year.

“Students have the opportunity to learn from other professions, and understand each other’s scope of practice and the different skills that each profession can offer, significantly improving cross professional referring, which is of real benefit to the client,” he said.

A graduate of both UQ physiotherapy and human movement programs himself, Mr Whitehart has experienced first-hand the benefits of a cross-disciplinary education, and is excited by the interprofessional learning opportunities and the implications for improved client experience this model of care offers.

“One of the key benefits we’ve seen so far has been the positive impact of the cross-generational environment on all involved.

“It’s a unique environment, and we’ve found it’s highly valued by both the over 50s and the students. It’s an experience for the students that’s both enjoyable and educational, while the older generations also see social and emotional benefits from dealing with the younger generation in this setting.”

Mr Whitehart said one of the facility’s unexpected benefits has been the developing sense of community among the attendees.

“Alongside the physical benefits, this opportunity to see new and developing social connections forming is something I’m very proud of. You can’t underestimate the health benefits of social connection.”

One of the programs planned to be offered by the clinic is the Bereavement Program. This program will offer group exercise and education sessions on everything from anxiety and depression, to exercise and mood, and cooking for one.

“When someone loses a loved one, they can stop socially interacting, stop eating, and stop exercising. For some, time heals and they do gradually improve. But for others, it can reach the point where they can’t come out of that bereaved state by themselves.

“We have the opportunity for our psychologists, clinical exercise physiologists, and dieticians to provide education and support through this new life stage.

“We’re also looking to introduce occupational therapists in 2019, to assist these clients with their adjustment to a new role in life,” he said.

Despite still being in its early days, the clinic has already seen significant public interest, with some classes nearing capacity, primarily through word-of-mouth referrals.

“We’re receiving strong feedback from clients on the thoroughness of the assessments, the level of supervision they experience on the gym floor, and that clients appreciate the opportunity to attend these specifically designed education sessions.”

Words: Sophia McMeekin