The 80-year-old has been a regular senior center visitor for more than three years, but depression issues made it difficult to fully connect with the community.
"As you get older, sometimes there are more (social) barriers," Karras said. "The Wellness Program has changed the senior center for the better. It makes people feel closer and be friendlier. I now talk, joke and laugh more."
The Enhance Wellness Program launched in January 2012 with the goal of improving both the emotional and physical health of seniors.
It is free thanks to a three-year grant from the Verdant Health Commission, whose mission is to support South Snohomish County health initiatives.
Overseen by a registered nurse and social worker, the program addresses common, chronic conditions such as weight management, nutrition, arthritis, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Depression and anxiety are also common, resulting from life changes such as retirement, loss of companionship and relocation.
Almost 100 seniors, ranging in age from their late 40s to early 80s, have participated. The success rate is impressive, with more than three-quarters improving or maintaining their overall health.
"Some of the results include decreased hospital stays, reducing use of medications and an overall increase in daily activity," said Michelle Reitan, the program's social worker.
"Part of the success is that we work on what clients want and don't push other areas that they're not yet comfortable addressing. We want to develop trust."
Anyone who is interested can participate. About 75 percent of participants are already Edmonds Senior Center regulars, and 25 percent come specifically for the program.
Clients complete an initial 12-page questionnaire, which evaluates their general health and lifestyle. Based on the answers, a customized six-month plan is developed to address individual needs. Seniors can also re-enroll for additional sessions.
"This is definitely a holistic program," said Amy Ayers, Enhance Wellness' registered nurse. "For instance, some people eat to salve their emotional wounds and depression, which causes weight gain. By helping people deal with emotional issues, we are more successful in resolving physical problems."
For physical fitness, the program refers seniors to the center's Enhanced Fitness classes, which focus on age-appropriate exercises. As a result, class popularity has dramatically increased.
Last year, Bastyr University opened a satellite clinic at the Edmonds Senior Center and many Enhance Wellness participants include natural medicine in their regimens.
Marje Sellers, 73, recently retired and wanted to be proactive about her health. Thanks to the program, she lowered her cholesterol by more than 100 points and avoided needing stronger prescription medication.
"It's a great support system, like having a great friend to encourage you," Sellers said. "Amy (Ayers) is so helpful and a good role model herself."
Ayers turns 80 this summer and still regularly hikes, cycles and ballroom dances.
"I think young," Ayers said. "I know I can still do things. I listen to my body when it says something is too much, but if you think old, you're going to act old."
The one-on-one attention is one of the primary reasons for success. Ayers frequently spends 90 minutes meeting with new clients with frequent telephone checkups. Most clients meet with Ayers and Reitan in person every three to four weeks.
The wellness team coordinates with clients' families and doctors depending on the individual's wishes.
In addition to accessibility and personal attention, receiving free care is an overwhelming draw.
"If I go to the doctor, I pay $40 each time," Karras said. "I have insurance, but it doesn't cover everything. If it wasn't for the (Enhance Wellness) program, I couldn't have accomplished what I've done."
She participated in an Edmonds walking group last year and looks forward to taking a tai chi class this spring. She is also generally finding more joy in life. As part of her wellness goals, she enjoyed decorating her Christmas tree last December.
"I think seniors should expect and have a sense of vitality like they did when they were younger," Reitan said. "An active, healthy lifestyle is a very obtainable goal."
Edmonds Senior Center Wellness Program
For more information, visit edmondssc.org or call 425-774-5555
Free, confidential and enrollment is ongoing.
The general age range is 55 years and older.
Participants coordinate with a social worker and registered nurse to achieve their specific goals. It is the individual's choice whether to include or notify their health care provider(s). Seniors are welcome to re-enroll after completing an initial, six-month program.
The program addresses both emotional and physical needs. Common physical issues include: weight control, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure, nutrition, medication management and more.
Emotional issues commonly include depression, anxiety and isolation. Signs of depression can be withdrawing from family and friends, less enjoyment in favorite activities, difficulty in doing everyday tasks, weight gain or loss and difficulty sleeping.
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