Cardinal Ritter keeps older adults active in mind, spirit

Lisa Johnston |

Joe Kuszaj hopped on the exercise bike, and off he went, later putting the other exercise machines at Our Lady of Life Apartments to use as well.

It's a daily routine, and he pointed to Andrea Holliday, a physical therapist with Premiere Home Heath for keeping him motivated. "She makes sure I do it," Kuszaj said.

Holliday was working with another resident who had been in the hospital and at a nursing home rehabilitation before returning to the independent living apartments. Holliday's efforts are geared to helping people build endurance so they can get around easily on their own. They ask her about how to get their legs and arms stronger, she noted.

Kuszaj, soon to be 97, a member of St. Mary Magdalen Parish in south St. Louis, enjoys living at Our Lady of Life with his wife, Ann. They have many friends there and enjoy the activities. A former soccer referee, he retired from the Railway Express Agency and spent 38 years as a volunteer at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center.

Cardinal Ritter Institute's Our Lady of Life Apartments is doing its part to keep older adults active in mind and spirit. One way is by involving residents' families in activities such as the annual Easter egg hunt for residents' grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Breakfast with Santa is popular, as well as the annual family day picnic with food and beverages, pony rides, carriage rides, clowns, games, face-painting and this year a dog show. The event last year included a magician.

In order to keep people in an independent living facility and prevent premature placement in a skilled nursing facility, Our Lady of Life has contracted with Premiere Home Health, which at no charge to the facility or residents provides a nurse two days a week and physical therapist once a week to work with residents. Premiere offers an option for a caregiver to assist residents with daily living, help them dress, take medicines properly, meals, take part in activities, showers and more.

"It's helped people to remain in independent living a lot longer," said Ann Jones, administrator of Our Lady of Life.

Volunteers come from St. Louis University High School, Cor Jesu Academy (with a bell-ringing concert each year at Christmas) and other high schools. A pen-pal program is conducted with a grade school, with a visit to the school by residents who bring pizza and soda for lunch and play a game with their pen pals.

The University of Missouri-St. Louis provides students from the gerontology program who do life-skills reviews with residents. St. Louis College of Pharmacy students visit with residents to review medications. The St. Louis University School of Nursing students accompany the Our Lady of Life wellness nurse who is on site twice a week.

The activity director plans outings as well as on-site events, such as a casino night. A recent mystery trip to Kimmswick included a visit to a winery and a lunch overlooking the Mississippi River bluffs. "We want residents to really experience life and still enjoy it," Jones said.

Mass is celebrated every day and a Rosary recitation is held daily in the chapel where residents can pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Days of reflection are scheduled occasionally.

The Cardinal Ritter campus carries the Mind's Eye Radio programming from the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The program serves people with blindness, low vision or other disabilities which keep them from reading.

Karen Sisco comes to the events and visits regularly with her mother, resident Marian Weldele. The family has always gotten together, but the gatherings at Our Lady of Life have brought the family even closer together, she said. "It's just such a warm, welcoming place. It's a great place to live. They offer so many activities, and mom's never been happier."

Weldele, who has three children, eight grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, said the five youngest great-grandchildren especially enjoy their visits and the activities. "It's wonderful. They cater to all the children here," Weldele said.

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