Aging Well: Nonprofit I Ola Lahui improves seniors’ mental health in variety of ways – KITV Honolulu


I Ola Lahui provides culturally-minded psychology services for chronic diseases, and more traditional mental health needs.

Thursday, January 9th 2020, 3: 58 PM HST by Diane Ako

Getting mental health care to those who need it most: That’s the mission of Honolulu-based nonprofit I Ola Lahui, that uses cultural practices to help underserved communities, with a focus on Native Hawaiians and people living in rural towns.  

At least half the week, 67-year-old Rose Nishihara meets her friends for some exercise. Over the last six years, she’s improved her health. She ticks off a list of wins: « Weight, high blood pressure, and diabetes, but it’s controlled now. »

She’s part of a wellness program at I Ola Lahui, which is free for seniors and their caregivers. Nishihara is both. « [I’m] caring for my family; my husband who has shingles and diabetes. That’s a lot of challenge for myself. »

I Ola Lahui says the classes give seniors exercise and social connection. Executive director Dr. Aukahi Austin Seabury says, « Movement and meaningful engagement in fun activities is critical to preserving their long term health functioning. »

I Ola Lahui does more than that. It teaches people how to live with chronic diseases, like diabetes, to reduce people’s stress. « Living healthy with diabetes is a really complicated thing to do. It’s difficult to monitor your blood sugar and maintain a healthy diet, » Dr. Austin Seabury gives as an example.

Dr. Austin Seabury says they offer cultural classes, like hula, because people respond better. « Engaging in cultural practices is a really important path to health, » she explains, adding that i Ola Lahui participated in a recent University of Hawaii at Manoa John A. Burns School of Medicine study that validated how hula not only improved the heart-health of participants, but it motivated clients to continue dancing long after the clinical trial ended.

I Ola Lahui offers programs not just here in Honolulu but also around the state. Currently, I Ola Lahui provides behavioral health services to communities on O’ahu, Hawai’i Island, Moloka’i, and Lana’i. « We do everything we can to encourage folks to take their health into their own hands, » she says.

As Rose Nishihara says she learned in her time here, « If you take care of your health, that’s your wealth. »

I Ola Lahui says it’s working to create a statewide community rich in well-being.

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