At LeadingAge we’ve often found ourselves reluctant to use the term wellness. The word carries with it implications of physical fitness and the absence of disease. And yet, it’s hard to find an older adult that’s not living with some kind of diagnosis. In fact, according to one analysis, as many as 86% of older adults in the U.S. have some type of a pre-existing condition.

It’s pretty safe to say that most of the older people with whom LeadingAge members work, live with a health condition, or many health conditions. So, it’s time to shift our vision of wellness. Instead of encouraging elders to strive for unrealistic goals, what if we suggested that everyone can attain individualized wellness and wellbeing, regardless of age or diagnosis?

We all have an opportunity to use words and images that encourage an inclusive approach. Consider what questions you ask residents and participants about their goals. Are people who are living in a nursing home, and or accessing hospice services, still invited to consider what wellness looks like for them? Do you find ways to modify wellness activities for folks with varying physical and cognitive abilities? Do promotional materials include images of people using assistive devices like walkers and canes while participating in wellness activities? Do your offerings represent all dimensions of wellness and wellbeing?

I do believe it IS possible to be old, living with a disease, and still be well, but we must be intentional to make that a reality.