OT Students Redefine Exercise for Native Elders

April 26, 2005

Contact: Jason Gibeau, 480-4592; Angela Heisel, 272-3651


Members of the Pueblo of Cochiti Elder Center learned that exercise to help with arthritis does not require a fancy gym or $150 sneakers. Instead, maintaining activity such as chopping wood, drumming, and playing with grandchildren coupled with some simple exercises done from the safety of their chairs can help manage arthritis.

UNM Occupational Therapy students, Carrie Gashytewa and Leah Anthony, worked together with Darlene Franklin of the New Mexico Geriatric Education Center to create a culturally sensitive exercise program specifically for Native American elders who are living with arthritis, and the elders at Cochiti were the first to try it out.

"Our u ltimate goal is to improve quality of life for the elders," said Gashytewa. "We tried to create an information booklet that is easily understood and discusses exercise such as traditional dancing that is not found in typical arthritis programs."

The students used People with Arthritis Can Exercise (PACE), a program distributed by the Arthritis Foundation, as a model to create theArthritis Exercise Program for Native Americans.In addition to the use of daily activities, such as baking bread, to define exercise, Anthony illustrated the booklet with pictures of Native Americans participating in the exercises to make the booklet more culturally sensitive.

"Currently, there are limited exercise programs that are designed for Native Americans with various chronic conditions. We hope this program will make some elders feel more comfortable with exercising. After implementing the program we will use evaluation forms and personal testimony to get a picture of the program's success in communicating with our elders," Anthony addressed.

The Pueblo of Cochiti Elder Center, which provides local elders hot meals, financial assistance, transportation to medical appointments, and a place to socialize, is only the first stop for theArthritis Exercise Program for Native Americans. Gashytewa and Anthony already are making plans to provide copies of the arthritis information and exercise booklet to the Jemez Pueblo Center where some elders are involved in an arthritis education course.

Gashytewa and Anthony created this program to satisfy personal goals and requirements for a class within the Master of Occupational Therapy curriculum entitled "Community Health". Each Spring Semester occupational therapy students create and implement community health projects to increase people's abilities to participate in the occupations such as work, play and leisure that are important to them and their overall mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Some of the projects by Gashytewa's and Anthony's classmates include a health and hygiene program for people with mental illness at Casa Milagro in Santa Fe, a videotape project and peer mentor program for people with disabilities at the North Fourth Art Center, a campaign to lobby New Mexico Medicaid to reimburse for assistance animals as assistive technology, a needs assessment at High Desert Roads Clubhouse for people with brain injuries, a peer mentor program at Crossroads Transition Services for women, a therapy center called The Village for people with developmental disabilities, and a wellness program through Jewish Family Services.

Related Stories

Spreading the Word

Spreading the Word

UNM's Project ECHO has Trained 500,000 Health Care Workers Worldwide in COVID-19 Treatment