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Three seniors smile while using virtual reality headsets

Resident Engagement is the Most Exciting Opportunity Today in Senior Living

While writing my master’s level thesis during college in 2006, I studied senior living and spent countless hours in communities which taught me how to approach older adults with deep empathy and respect. My research was also influenced by being so close to older members of my family; this helped me learn early on that aging doesn’t have to be a negative experience. My work opened my eyes to just how many older adults were bored, lonely, and secluded, and how this presented a unique opportunity for improving their lives through meaningful engagement. 

This ignited my passion to positively disrupt the resident experience and this is why I started Linked Senior. As my team and I began building our vision, with input from older adults and caregivers themselves, we knew our success would be based on how well we could build for our end users: the frontline staff. These individuals approach their work every day wanting above all else to help residents experience purpose, meaning, and joy. To fundamentally improve the resident experience, innovators in the engagement field need to focus on removing every barrier the frontline staff faces, and there are many, which is why this opportunity to move beyond the status quo is so exciting!

As the business grew, it became clear that we couldn’t remove obstacles for frontline staff unless management and owners understood the transformative power of quality resident engagement and made an investment in it. Unfortunately, this is not yet the norm in this industry and so many residents continue to have unmet needs because staff aren’t receiving the support they need from leadership. Even today, the cost of one monthly antipsychotic prescription for a resident is sometimes higher than the activity director’s budget for the whole building! 

The ROI for optimizing resident engagement isn’t clear enough yet because many communities aren’t currently using technology that could easily show a correlation between person-centered engagement and positive health outcomes. The main benefit of using a digital tool is that it supports in real-time, the measurement, management and analysis of resident data to help optimize a community’s engagement strategy. One of the biggest headaches in senior care today is related to staff retention and turnover. Many estimate that a conservative range of long-term care staff turnover today is between 45 and 66 percent. This turnover can be addressed head on once organization leaders prioritize the engagement department as a revenue generating component of the business. 

In just the past three years, the engagement field has made incredible strides to make this kind of personalized assessment possible. Innovators in the field are moving beyond paper-based tools and using technology to help them record and track resident preferences and health outcomes. By doing this, frontline staff can adapt their engagement strategies as the needs and preferences of residents change, making their work even more impactful because they are using a resident-driven approach. 

There are many examples of how resident engagement is developing in exciting ways right now in the market, and the examples below are why I’d recommend the Activity Director profession to anyone entering the aging field today. 

1. We are entering an exciting time in the health field in which the power of social determinants of health (SDOH) to impact the health and well-being of residents is being acknowledged. Earlier this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that they will now allow Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to offer supplemental benefits that address SDOH. 

2. It is becoming more acceptable to recognize that prescribing meaningful and personalized resident engagement therapy, rather than an antipsychotic or other inappropriate drug, is both less costly and healthier for residents. A recent Linked Senior study funded by the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation found that by increasing engagement for residents in long-term care, providers can both reduce antipsychotic drug use and behavioral expressions associated with dementia.

3. Life enrichment professionals know that no amount of money can buy the feeling one has after helping a resident living with dementia find purpose and joy from meaningful engagement. It has been thrilling to see the creative purpose-making work being done by Anne Basting of TimeSlips and Angie McAllister of Signature Healthcare in their immersive theater project in a nursing home as they strive to bring joy to all residents.

Every day, our company has discussions with providers who are shifting their mindset and deciding to invest in the value of resident engagement. Nothing is more exciting to us than collaborating with frontline teams and their organizations once they’ve made this commitment to improving the quality of life of their residents and staff.  Our company is proud to have a 96% renewal rate and we know that this success is only because our clients have fully committed to the vision of better resident engagement and person-centered care. It is an honor and a privilege to work with them each day to transform the lives of residents and life enrichment staff.

August 9, 2019