Carol Cummings, RN, BSN, Expert on Aging Well

Contact Carol
03 December 2019

A few months ago, a prospective resident with a passion for gardening was considering moving into one of our communities, but the garden space didn’t have the raised garden beds she was looking for. When the prospective resident shared her concern and asked if she could bring her own raised garden beds, we, of course, said “yes”!

Saying “yes” to our residents’ interests is what engagement is all about. While most of our communities offer a traditional calendar of activities, we also get to know our residents so that the offerings at the community reflect their unique interests. Our goal isn’t to keep people busy just for the sake of being busy. We want our residents to live life with meaning and purpose.

This is a topic I get asked about a lot, but the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. I talked to the “U.S. News and World Report” about how engagement isn’t one size fits all, it’s a custom response to our residents’ interests. Just about any activity can be a good one for the right senior, but the truth is there's no single right mix of activities that will work for everyone. That’s why I believe there are three key components to successful resident engagement.

The first key component is substance. Activities shouldn’t be scheduled for the sake of activities; there must be some meaning behind them. If you’re considering a move into senior living, consider these questions when touring communities and reviewing their calendar of events. 

  • Do the activities promote socialization?
  • Are the activities age-appropriate and worthwhile? 
  • Do these different types of activities meet residents where they are in terms of abilities and interests?
  • Do residents seem, well, engaged—as in happy to be there and enjoying their time?

For example, at Brookdale we offer a signature B-Fit exercise program, based on current senior fitness research. The classes include upper and lower body strength training, balance and core work, and walking groups. This program not only has substance and science behind it, but it is a social experience too. You want to see this type of fitness program instead of the older model of senior exercise with activities like ball toss, noodle ball or balloon volleyball.

A second key component of authentic resident engagement is treating residents as adults. It sounds simple, right? But sometimes we fall into a pattern of treating elders as though they are less capable. It’s important to keep in mind when you’re talking with seniors to engage with them as equals and peers, and avoid patronizing conversations that can diminish their value as active participants in their own lives.

A third element of resident engagement is person-centered care and well-being. Sometimes in the clinical world, we focus on the diagnosis and view residents through the lens of their medical needs. Understanding those needs is important, of course, but it shouldn’t define a person. At Brookdale, we train our clinicians to view residents through the lens of wellness. This transforms “Rose the fall risk” and “Bob the diabetic” to “Rose who loves to paint” and “Bob the retired teacher.” When associates get to know a resident's story, they can plan appropriate activities that promote engagement.

Last September, in a keynote address delivered to senior housing industry professionals, Robert Kramer, the founder of the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC), spoke about upcoming trends and innovations in senior housing. One trend Kramer anticipates in the next ten years is a move away from a traditional list of monthly activities at senior living communities. He says, “The new consumer of senior housing, the Boomer generation, wants to be where the action is.” Their influence will lead senior housing in a new direction where communities emphasize opportunities for engagement, connection and enrichment, not just a calendar of activities.

At Brookdale, we’re already seeing examples of this new level of authentic engagement based on strong relationships and connections that help our residents continue to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Whether it’s through engaging socially in a group, an individual purposeful pursuit, or meeting a new best friend—it's all about the connections. And we want to be a trusted partner with our residents and families as we redefine independence for seniors, and what it means to live well and age well.

Be well on purpose!

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