San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

La Casa Sol Shines Light on Golden Years

When Jenny Mora opened La Casa Sol 16 years ago, she knew she needed to take a multidimensional approach to aging.

She had already seen what was out there for aging seniors: Hospitals provided rehabilitation programs; day care centers offered social activities. Yet there was nothing available that combined the two.

“I thought to myself, ‘There has to be something better,’” said Mora, who studied gerontology at RutgersUniversity in the U.S. state of New Jersey. “You can’t have one without the other. The two play into each other in the healing process.”

It’s that integral approach to aging that forms the base of her adult care center set in the hills of Escazú, west of San José.

Every weekday morning at 10 a.m., two vans full of seniors – up to age 96 – pull up to La Casa Sol. Greetings and hugs are passed around, and guests walk arm in arm down a beautifully gardened path to a common space, where a Catholic Mass begins the day.

Mornings consist of exercise and coordination activities, followed by group therapy sessions and social games in the afternoon.“We have people who spend months and months in rehabilitation programs. When they come here, they improve within days,” Mora said. “When they ask, ‘Why?’ I tell them it’s because we work with both the mind and the body.”

If someone is depressed, she said, his or her physical condition is not likely to improve. It’s the same thing the other way around, she added.

Combining sessions with psychologists and activities that stress memorization and coordination, Mora has developed a program for her 56 guests that is not only rehabilitative, but also fun.

One activity has guests toss a ball at numbers posted around the wall. Those numbers are shuffled, the participant is blindfolded, and then he or she must remember where to throw the ball.

“It works on the mind because they have to remember where to throw it. It’s physical and it’s also fun,” said Mora, with the ball in her hand.

Guests spend 45 minutes a day with a full-time physical trainer who works on their muscular development, flexibility and agility. The center also has a medical program oriented toward illness prevention and control through checkups and holistic assessment. A physician comes in every Wednesday afternoon, and medical attention is always available.

The house is set upon a slope just west of Escazú Centro. With panoramic views of the city and an open-air environment, it has an atmosphere that feels like a retreat from the clutter of daily life.

The physical attributes of the center reflect the philosophy of La Casa Sol: to open up and celebrate life, so that as guests grow older, they grow happier. Activities are meant to be fun and to encourage social interaction.

“Life is so beautiful, and you don’t realize how good it is when you are in your house, by yourself,” said Mora, an energetic 53-year-old. “Loneliness is not a good partner.”

Having a social element at this stage in life is extremely important, Mora said. “Of course you are going to lose memory and other skills if you spend days not talking to anyone or seeing anyone.”

Ligia Salazar started coming to La Casa Sol when she lost her husband of 59 years. She needed something to get her mind off her situation – that she was now without a partner.

“If I didn’t come here, I would sit at home and cry all day,” said Salazar, 81, originally from Puntarenas on the central Pacific coast. “I love the social environment and the people here.”

Adolph Boin, 86, a retired military officer from the U.S. city of Houston, said it’s the games he enjoys most about his days at La Casa Sol. Though he doesn’t speak Spanish, he’s still able to interact with the other guests and participate in Mass or therapy sessions.

“There is so much in life to enjoy,” Mora said. “People need to gather. People need to have fun.”

For more on La Casa Sol, call 2288-0209 or 2288-0213, e-mail or visit Monthly rates for guests range from $204 for one day a week to $819 for five days a week. Transportation is extra.

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