8 Domains of Livability Case Studies

Putting a Fun Spin on Staying Healthy

A "mingle and meet" event for older adults also helps the volunteers who make it happen

50 & BETTER SENIOR HEALTH FAIR, Des Moines, Iowa, United States

An older woman sits with a medical student at the Des Moines University senior health fair.

A patient at the 50 & Better Senior Health Fair lifts hand weights under the watchful eye of a medical student. — Photo courtesy DesMoines University

Every year, Des Moines University's 50 & Better Senior Health Fair offers older Iowans free medical screenings and health information in a friendly, social atmosphere.

The idea for the health fair originated with students in the university's Geriatrics Club, which organizes the event with the help of the medical school's clinicians and staff and more than 100 other student volunteers. Des Moines University (DMU) is the largest medical school in Iowa and the nation's second-largest osteopathic school.

Exhibitors provide free screenings, talk about health topics of interest to participants, and provide information about available community services.


The fair is both a health event and a social event. "There is a lot more going on than screenings," says Dr. Yogi Shah, DMU's associate dean of global health and a founder of Age-Friendly Des Moines. Attendees bring friends, enjoy the free refreshments, take ballroom-style dance lessons, play games and learn new things (chair yoga, for example).

Among the free medical screenings are those for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and lipid levels, colorectal cancer, depression, skin cancer, vascular disease and vision. Other services range from foot exams, nutritional information and sleep assessments to bone density scans, medication reviews and osteopathic treatments.

Visitors to the fair can get a flu shot as well as a physical fitness assessment that analyzes their balance and gait, body mass index, flexibility and strength. At the checkout area, DMU students sit with the attendees to review the results of their screenings and assessments and answer any questions they may have. Depending on their needs, visitors might also meet with a physician for on-site counseling and advice.

Some of the factors that have helped make the 50 & Better Senior Health Fair a success:

  • DART, the Des Moines public-transit system, provides free transportation to the fair.

  • The fair typically includes more than 50 health care, activity and educational booths.

  • Assistance is available for people who are in wheelchairs or have other mobility issues.

  • If the line at a booth is too long (the medication review and skin cancer screenings are especially popular), a person can add his or her name to a wait list and come back later.

An older woman and doctor at the Des Moine University senior health fair.

A patient and medical provider at the senior health fair. — Photo courtesy DesMoines University


The medical school’s Geriatrics Club, which receives up to $4,000 a year in university funding, covers many of the health fair’s costs. The club also hosts fundraising events.

DMU and its medical clinic provide the equipment, tables and chairs used at the health fair, for which exhibitors and vendors pay $100 to participate. (Fees are waived for some nonprofit partners.) Students, doctors and staff volunteer their time.


More than 300 older adults attend each 50 & Better Senior Health Fair. Many, according to event evaluations, say they intend to change their health behaviors based on information received at the fair. 

By working with the older patients, the student volunteers gain experience and the time they served counts toward the "touch hours" required as part of their medical training.

Published August 2015

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