Published: Fall 2009 in Feature Story

Testing the Ropes to Help Seniors

Kinesiology students continue their research at a Santa Barbara retirement center to help seniors increase their level of fitness

Kinesiology Research at Santa Barbara Retirement CenterKinesiology professor Gregg Afman has put a new spin on an old class. Students enrolled in Fitness for Older Populations, an elective within the kinesiology major, train and test three dozen senior citizens at Vista Del Monte, a retirement community in Santa Barbara, using newly developed technology.

Redcord, a Norwegian company, has designed a unique program for strength training and injury prevention using body weight and slings. Students receive hands-on training with the help of Redcord certified professional Peggy Buchanan, Del Monte fitness and aquatics director. The class, which meets at Vista Del Monte two days a week, is held in a room away from the traditional fitness center. Here, six Redcord suspension systems hang from the ceiling to the hardwood floor below.

“George, are you breathing?” Buchanan asks 90-year old George Dubbels who’s holding himself in a seated position, his hands in two red slings in front of his shoulders. “No, I’ve stopped breathing,” he replies to laughter from the others in the class.

“The best way to learn is being in it and experiencing it,” says junior Scott Williams, a kinesiology major and defenseman on the soccer team. “I’ve enjoyed getting to meet these people as they work out. I’m learning how to relate with people in a clinical setting and making them feel more comfortable.”

Senior Beth Widicus, a kinesiology major and GSAC Scholar-Athlete with the volleyball team, calls out a new exercise and gives further instruction to the class, reminding them of the proper positioning.

“Redcord is really cool, and I can’t wait to see it catch on,” Widicus says. “The improvement with this group over four weeks has been amazing. It forces you to use your whole body to keep yourself stabilized, creating a great workout.” Widicus is applying for graduate school in hopes of becoming a physical therapist. She has been working at an Orange County nursing home for the past two summers and wants to implement Redcord there. “This kind of workout is vital to the rehabilitation process for patients I’m working with,” she says.

At the end of the semester, the class will compare the Redcord group’s progress to another group using traditional resistance machines. Students will analyze the improvements to balance, strength and mobility.

Kinesiology students continue research at Santa Barbara Retirement Center“We can talk and read all about it,” Afman says, “but the opportunity to work with older patients and be involved in their lives has been great.” He says many students take the course thinking they want to work with high-performance athletes. “But they come here and find out how interesting this is, hearing about all these life experiences,” he says.

Buchanan became a certified Redcord therapist last summer after completing the first U.S. clinic, which was held in Santa Barbara. Students have used her classes as a lab for the past six years, conducting three research projects: balance and pole walking, suspension strength training, and comparing the gains with Redcord.

“Textbook training is great, but these students are in the real world, working with patients with arthritis and replaced hips,” Buchanan says. “It helps students connect the dots.” Buchanan has been so impressed with Westmont, she’s hired five students through internships. “It’s a win-win relationship with the college, working with these knowledgeable students and helping them down their career path. It’s been fun and functional.”

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