Unique calming therapies, resident involvement in product innovation, and a desire to inspire younger generations are the hallmarks of this year’s Argentum Best of the Best Award winners. These five forward-thinking companies are using progressive and innovative methods to enhance senior living in their communities and beyond.
Entrepreneurs are invited to live with Brookdale residents for five days to collaborate on technologies that may benefit seniors. Country Meadows Retirement Communities created an activity book that helps children understand and remain involved when a loved one experiences memory loss. A lifelike robotic seal is the centerpiece of a program at Legend Senior Living to help ease dementia-related symptoms, and Senior Lifestyle Corporation achieves the same goal with its Essence aromatherapy program. Finally, Senior Living Communities is inspiring youth to pursue careers in senior living by reaching out to middle and high school students with its Explore program.
“Sharing best practices is one of the most impactful ways we can work together to improve the quality of life and quality of care for senior living residents,” says James Balda, Argentum president and chief executive officer. “Argentum’s Best of the Best winners raise the bar of excellence, delivering programs that inspire innovation across the industry.”
Argentum is pleased to introduce the 2017 winners of the Best of the Best Awards.
Brookdale’s Entrepreneur in Residence program invites entrepreneurs developing products and services for seniors to move into a Brookdale community for a five-day residency. During the residency the entrepreneurs participate fully in community life–they eat meals, play games, attend events, and build strong relationships with fellow residents. In addition, the Brookdale team helps the entrepreneurs design formal opportunities to receive feedback from residents. These can include focus groups, product demonstrations, or conversations around the community.
A growing number of entrepreneurs are interested in building solutions for seniors and their families. “People 80 and above are the fastest growing population in the country, but for too long we’ve been designing products for everyone but this population,” says Andrew Smith, director of strategy and innovation at Brookdale. “There’s a huge opportunity to enhance seniors’ lives with new technologies, services, and products.”
Smith says the Entrepreneur in Residence program allows entrepreneurs to connect with seniors on a level that is hard to duplicate any other way. It would be challenging for entrepreneurs to assemble a focus group of seniors who may be experiencing various physical and cognitive impairments, and to involve them in the product design process. “We launched the Entrepreneur in Residence program to address these challenges directly,” Smith says. “It allows innovators to better understand this population and gives them a mechanism to design with seniors, not for seniors.”
Brookdale residents are enthusiastic about the opportunity to give feedback on products and services that could help improve their own lives and the lives of seniors outside their communities. “The residents absolutely love it,” Smith says. “They love the opportunity to learn about new technology and to contribute to the process. They love the energy and passion these entrepreneurs bring to their work and they cherish the opportunity to help someone young and passionate be successful.” The program unlocks an innovative spirit within the community, inspiring community associates and residents alike.
Participating entrepreneurs have reported that the deep immersion in resident lifestyles has given them unparalleled insight into seniors’ needs as well as allowing for more thorough feedback than they could receive by any other method.
Completed Entrepreneur in Residence programs have focused on a wide range of products, including a full body dryer, adaptive clothing, family engagement software applications, smart wearables, 3D movies, virtual reality, and more.
Thanks in part to media coverage, interest in the program has grown tremendously. Brookdale expects to expand the number of residencies in 2017 to at least one per month. The company is exploring the possibility of long-term residencies with large, national partners seeking to design products and services with residents.
The program also provides Brookdale the opportunity to experience new technologies quickly and inexpensively, while understanding more about what residents want and need from those products. Although the intention of the program to help develop new products and services for the senior population at large, Brookdale is currently reviewing the possibility of implementing pilot programs featuring some of the innovations introduced through the Entrepreneur in Residence program.
“The Unforgettable Adventures of Grandma’s Cape” is a story and activity book created by Country Meadows to help families connect with a loved one who has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The adventure story is told from a child’s point of view and features a dynamic, cape-wearing grandmother who has a “forgetting disease.” Readers, along with the narrator, learn that people with memory loss are still capable of loving and being loved and that compassion, warmth, and humanity are “super powers” that can be used to maintain a connection with their loved one. The book uses an engaging story, bold illustrations, child-friendly activities, bite-size facts, interactive assignments, and suggestions for positive interaction to convey and reinforce the information.
“The book helps kids and adults understand a very scary illness by making it a little more personable and relatable,” says the book’s author, Joel Kroft, executive director of memory support for Country Meadows. “Children learn best through stories and can relate to the love the main character has for Grandma.”
Games and activities help reinforce the book’s messages. Brief fact boxes, called “Memory Minutes,” complement the story and provide suggestions to help children cope with their own feelings as well as foster a new relationship with their changing loved one.
An activity called “My Grandparent’s Life Story” provides an interactive exercise that the child can complete by engaging his or her grandparent in memories of the past. It also reveals things that the grandparent and child have in common. “10 Promises to Help Me Validate My Grandparent” provides a guide to help children and their parents give their loved one the compassion, support, and understanding that they need through all phases of the memory loss disease.
Though targeted for children, the book helps people of all ages understand how dementia and Alzheimer’s disease can change the way their loved one acts and communicates. It provides concrete steps family members can take to maintain a relationship through those changes. “As people experience challenges from memory loss, the people around them tend to pull away, confused and frightened by the symptoms,” Kroft says. “If we can do more to keep families connected, we can improve the quality of life of people living with dementia.”
Kroft hopes that parents will read and discuss the book with their children. “Kids need a safe place to ask questions like ‘Why does Grandma do this,’ or ‘Why doesn’t Grandpa remember my name?’ This book hopefully creates those openings for families,” he says.
The book is illustrated by Gabby Hoffman, an art student who won the opportunity through a contest at the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. A travelling art exhibit featuring all the “Grandma’s Cape” book cover entries is displayed for one month at every Country Meadows location and forms the basis for a series of public relations activities. Those activities have included book readings for children done by residents wearing capes, coloring contests, and library partnerships.
To date 5,000 copies of the book have been printed and distributed to families and community groups. The book has become a standard part of Country Meadows’ packet for families of residents in its memory care neighborhoods and is available free at every Country Meadows location and at its sister community, Ecumenical Retirement Community.
A lifelike robotic baby harp seal called Paro is the centerpiece of a Legend Senior Living biofeedback program designed to enhance the functioning and quality of life for residents with dementia. Paro was designed specifically for therapeutic interaction in people with dementia. Interaction with the seal helps treat dementia-related symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and undesirable behaviors.
Paro is a Food and Drug Administration-approved medical device that responds to human attention by moving its head and body, opening and closing its eyes, and making noises identical to a real baby harp seal. It can make eye contact, express emotions, and learn its name. The seal is equipped with multiple sensors for light, heat, touch, sound, and movement. It mirrors the personality of its handler and will be low-key with timid people and more animated with vigorous handling.
Using the data from a three-month study conducted in five Legend communities, researchers found that intervention with the Paro seal provided a viable alternative to the use of medications for controlling symptoms of anxiety in senior residents with dementia. Interaction with the seal three times a week for 20 minutes significantly reduced the need for these medications. It also significantly decreased the use of pain medications while improving depression scores in the treatment group. Use of the seal has also been shown to increase serotonin in the brain, thereby assisting in better sleep for dementia patients. Other benefits of Paro may include improved oxygenation and improved cardiac status. Residents in the treatment group improved and maintained improvements in galvanic skin response, pulse oximetry, and pulse-rate over time.
Results of the study were so impressive that Legend quickly adopted the new technology in its communities. “We found such remarkable benefit from this that we’ve begun to implement these in all of our buildings,” says Legend chief executive officer Tim Buchanan. “We’ve got one or two seals now in every state and are in the process of putting them in all of our memory care neighborhoods.”
Resident response has been very positive. “It’s remarkable,” Buchanan says. “The most dramatic [response] was a resident who was nonverbal for about a decade. After participating in the study with the seal, the person began talking to the seal and calling it ‘honey’ and ‘sweetie’ and being verbal with the seal after not being verbal with humans for nine or ten years.”
The seal capitalizes on the concept of neuroplasticity to help residents with neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s build new neural pathways and retain or regain function. The benefits of working with the seal go beyond the immediate results to impact other areas of the person’s life, including increasing their willingness to participate in activities and improving their relationships with other residents. “It benefits everything else that the resident is involved in every day. It’s just not this one therapy,” says Buchanan. “It’s the ripple effect of the neuroplasticity and its total outcome on the resident’s life.”
The Essence Program by Senior Lifestyle Corporation is a sensory stimulation program based on aromatherapy principles. The use of essential oils either applied to the skin or inhaled can be an effective complementary therapy for dementia-related conditions such as sleep disturbance and agitation.
Essence offers a series of signature blends using essential oils in the form of spritzers and sprays, body oils, lotions or creams in a variety of scents. Each signature blend is designed to stimulate specific responses or support a specific participant concern. For example, Wild Orange has an energizing aroma and may support healthy digestion, promote peaceful sleep, support a healthy appetite, and may help ease feelings of worry, fear, and anxiety.
During the eight-week enrollment period, each participant receives a personalized plan and attends a session one time per week. Each participant session may use one or more of the compositions and applications depending on the plan developed for that person. “Each participant session is a unique experience with the use of essential oils at its core,” says Hollie Thieverge, Senior Lifestyle Corporation’s corporate director of resident experience. “The personalized participant plan details which blends will be used, how those blends will be applied, and how the sensory room will be set up.”
Participation in the Essence program may reduce the need for pharmacological interventions, raise awareness of concerns associated with resident conditions, address those concerns in a holistic way, and include residents’ families in the solutions.
While essential oils must be used carefully, they have shown good results when properly implemented. Senior Lifestyle Corporation consulted existing research, best practices, and professional experts as resources for developing this one-of-a-kind program. The goal is to provide a sensory-based program with the potential to complement existing treatments for residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Although it is based on aromatherapy, Thieverge explains that Essence goes beyond the simple use of essential oils. “In addition to smells, we use touch, sounds, color, light, and taste to provide a multi-sensory experience for each participant that is focused on their personal wellbeing and preferences,” she says.
The program has been well received by Senior Lifestyle’s residents, team, and family members. Residents and families benefit from the one-on-one time with their Essence directors and are experiencing increased satisfaction and positive outcomes. “Residents have benefited in a variety of ways from the program including but not limited to elevated mood, reduced stress, improvements with restlessness, and decreased anxiousness,” Thieverge says. “Typical participant reactions during and post session include increased verbalization, excitement, attentiveness, expressions of personal enjoyment, and relaxation.”
An expansion of the program will take place in 2017 with additional communities being trained to offer Essence. Additionally, the number of signature blends offered will continue to grow as Senior Lifestyle expands on the number of conditions they seek to support through the program. The company is also researching ways to improve the spaces in which the program is offered. Enhancements may include installing water features, adjustable lighting, mood-influencing color schemes, and more.
Senior Living Communities inspires youth to pursue careers in senior living through its Explore program, a community outreach initiative that exposes middle school and high school students to career opportunities in the industry. The key tenets of this program are identifying talent at a young age, exposing those students to the wide scope of the senior living field, and helping to spark a passion-driven career. “We are so proud of this program as it strives to reach the hearts of future employees and ignite a passion for employment within this industry,” says Nerissa Nelson, vice president of human resources for Senior Living Communities.
Explore is the first step of an innovative three-part program established by Senior Living Communities to expand and enhance its organizational development structure. Step two is Elevate, a scholarship program open to all team members to further their career opportunities. Step three is Evolve, a training track that informs and educates current management staff about the executive director position.
The Explore program has been successfully piloted on both the community and corporate level. In 2012, Osprey Village, an Amelia Island, Florida, Senior Living Communities property, pioneered the Explore program by fostering relationships with three local high schools. Since then, the program has continued to thrive. More than 50 students have taken part in the Explore program to date. In addition, the home office partnered with a local charter school to expose five high schoolers to the operational side of senior living.
Through working with local middle and high schools and their respective guidance counselors, Senior Living Communities team members across various departments share the benefits and impact of their jobs. Interested students are encouraged to tour the community with the goal of finding a position they can shadow that aligns with their career goals. After shadowing, the students provide hands-on care or services under close supervision. For example, one student researched ways to communicate eco-friendly initiatives within the company and recommended new ways to be more “green.”
Students are often unaware of the variety of career paths available within the senior living industry. Senior Living Communities representatives recently gave presentations at two middle school career fairs. More than 600 students listened to the presentations, and the majority were surprised to learn that nursing is not the only career opportunity available in senior living.
Demographic trends have created an ideal environment for the Explore, Elevate, and Evolve programs. “Millennials and Generation Z team members are drawn to careers with growth, mentoring, and the ability to make a difference,” Nelson says. “Continuing to prepare for Generation Z team members is imperative because unlike millennials, they are more likely to be loyal and drawn to stability.”
Over the course of the next year, the Explore program will expand into all other Senior Living Communities properties, starting with Summit Hills in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Future phases of the program include partnering with vocational colleges and veteran work initiatives.
Nelson says that beyond developing a future workforce, the program impacts youth in a way that can’t be measured. “One of the biggest intangible benefits is that middle and high school students will no longer pass by our gates without understanding our passion to serve our members.”
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