Senior Living-University Partnership Sees Potential in Brain Health Program

A Florida senior living community is looking to researchers at the University of Florida (UF) to offer a hands-on approach to improving seniors’ brain health.

The expansion of clinical resources at The Village in Gainesville builds upon the success of its wellness program, which tripled sales 22 months after implementation.

The Village, one of three SantaFe HealthCare, Inc.’s Florida senior living communities, and a team from UF’s College of Public Health and Health Professions have begun enrollment for the UF Health Vitality Mind program.


And while the addition to the community’s wellness Vitality Program is relatively new — having officially kicked off June 2 — program leaders say it is expected to roll out to SantaFe’s two other senior living communities within the next two years.

“It’s in beta for one year and then we’ll bring it to our other properties,” says Jim Antonucci, executive Director at The Village. “The Vitality Program is already there [at the other properties], and the plan is to bring in the cognitive component to those properties.”

About 100 residents have expressed interest in the Vitality Mind Program, with 20 agreeing to participate so far, says Dr. London Butterfield, a University of Florida post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology. Butterfield, along with Dr. Dawn Bowers and Dr. Michael Marsiske are leading the research team, comprised of about four graduate and eight undergraduate UF students.


Some students participate year-round, while others participate during their semester for college credit — all students dedicate eight to 12 hours a week to working with the seniors, Butterfield says, adding that senior participants can opt for varying program commitment lengths.

The collaboration between the two entities is unique, Butterfield says.

“Rarely do you have a research setting embedded in a retirement community,” Butterfield says, adding that past collaborations yielded positive results.  “The data so far showed there was improvement for many participants in memory, and some showed improvement in mood.”

The research team will collect data on participants’ cognitive health throughout the year and will publish the results at an undetermined time, she says.

The Village converted a two-bedroom apartment at the community to house the UF researchers and the equipment to be used. The senior living community also funded an $80,000 research grant to UF for the program. Approaches include mindfulness-meditation, computer training, exercise, behavioral activation, video games and neurostimulation.

The Vitality Program starts for residents with a “vitality score” that’s scaled from 0 to 48. The assessment looks at four main things: health factors, impairments, activities of daily living, and life satisfaction, Antonucci says. Each section is scored and weighted to produce a score for the resident.

The screening provides the basis for whether someone qualifies for the new Vitality Mind program, as well.

The new program is meant to be “proactive rather than reactive,” Antonucci says, adding that the brain health program is for those with relatively minor cognitive impairments — not for those with more severe impairments, such as dementia.

The new partnership differentiates The Village in the marketplace, Antonucci said, noting that when the Vitality Program rolled out in 2011, move-in rates increased from 62% to 89% over a 22 month period, despite a struggling economy. Low occupancy numbers were attributed to the campus’ expansion of 50% in 2009, which took place right before the market crash.

The Village is now at 90% occupancy.

“It’s our unique program and culture, which is designed to specifically take a proactive approach to wellness — what differentiates us from other programs is they lack the clinical chops,” Antonucci said.

The Village, in Gainesville, is a rental senior living community with 511 independent living units, 96 assisted living units, 32 dementia care units, and opened in 1986.

Antonucci says that he hopes other communities implement similar programs to better residents’ health.

“You can still do this, but you do it based on the size of your community,” he says. “As long as the key concepts are there — putting interventions in — what it boils down to is seeing and coordinating care.”

Written by Cassandra Dowell

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