By WAYNE JOSEPH
Old age is a relative term.
As Lori Thal, the art therapist at the Hilo Adult Day Care Center, constantly reminds me: “I have been working with the elderly citizens for over 30 years,” she said. “I have taken many courses in elder care here and in Asia. I have worked with participants that are in their seventies, eighties, nineties and even one hundred years young on a daily basis.”
Those participants are a constant reminder to me that everyone ages differently but that if you take care of yourself when you are young, you will have some control over your aging process.
“I love hearing how young I am in comparison especially on days that my own aches and pains surface,” Thal said.
“Art therapy provides a non-verbal means of communication for the participants. It is a creative opportunity and provides lots of enjoyment for the seniors. I work with the frail elderly and those with Dementia which makes creating art an extremely difficult but rewarding process.”
Thal’s goal each day is to get the participants involved in the process of art, drawing, painting, and ceramics.
“My job stress is diminished by the client’s appreciation and enthusiasm every day when they see the results of their created pieces,” she said.
Another one of Thal’s duties is leading an elderly modified exercise group first thing in the morning.
“Exercise is important at every stage of life no matter how old someone is,” she said. “The exercise they do will help with all functions of the body, mind and spirit.”
Exercise is a vital component of the seniors’ day at the Adult Day Center. They begin the morning with a modified yoga stretch for 10-15 minutes and then can move onto exercise classes such as tai chi, chi gong, and musical exercise during morning program time.
Thal said recreation is another activity choice for the participants such as bowling, shuffleboard, and golf. All activities are modified to meet their needs of decreased mobility or balance. Many clients sit in chairs, use walkers or wheelchairs but all are able to play and participate at their own level.
“I grew up in NYC where I would play jump rope all day,” Thal said. “I would ride my bicycle everywhere for fun and for transportation.”
She is married to husband Ric and they have two grown hanai children.
“I’m also turning sixty-one today,” Thal added with enthusiasm.
“I became physically active once I moved to California. I camped and backpacked all around the U.S. and Canada, including most of the national parks,” she said. “I also discovered yoga and running when I moved to Hawaii many years ago and I use it to break up stress from the daily rigors of the job.”
Thal does workouts on a treadmill starting on Monday to kick off the week.
“I have all the intentions of doing it five days straight but often other things take precedent over my workouts,” she said. “I like the fact that it keeps me strong and healthy and diminishes stress but I dislike the repetitive nature and time consuming element.”
Thal said she has “a very physical job, so walking on the treadmill helps my mind and body feel stronger. I also do yard work which I enjoy.”
As for diet, Thal claims to be eating healthy due to husband Ric.
“I have been eating health consciously since I moved to the Big Island over 30 years ago,” she said. “Brown rice, vegetables, and lots of fruit are a main stay in my diet. My biggest meal is at lunch which is always a huge salad. For dinners my husband, who is a fantastic cook, will cook everything from scratch using only the freshest ingredients.
“We do a lot of our shopping at the farmer’s market. I am a believer that the key to staying healthy and strong well into old age is eating healthy, exercising and having a positive mental attitude.”
Thal finished this interview with an important point: “Age is a relative number, what really counts is how you feel mentally and physically that really matters,” she said. “Keeping fit helps keep you independent which is what all the senior citizens want to maintain.”
And some day should you see a very thankful senior citizen walking in Paradise Park, remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”
Email the Big Dog at firstname.lastname@example.org.