Senior living operators are implementing new and innovative practices to address older adults’ rising concerns about dementia, and succeed in a challenging operating environment for memory care.
These innovative approaches include Brightview Senior Living’s company-wide Bright Minds wellness initiative; a Montessori-based approach at Acts Retirement-Life Communities; and a unique horticulture focus at a community newly acquired by Cadence Living and Sabra Health Care REIT (Nasdaq: SBRA).
These new ways of thinking about Alzheimer’s and dementia come amid an extremely competitive memory care environment. A supply glut in certain markets hit occupancy hard over the past several years, and standalone providers in particular face a slow road to recovery. This has prompted some providers to hit the reset button and come up with new ways to serve residents experiencing cognitive changes and stand out among competitors in the process. Watercrest Senior Living and Discovery Senior Living are among other providers to roll out new memory care programs this year.
Something that’s top of mind for many older adults and their loved ones is the sheer prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia. An estimated 5.7 million Americans currently live with Alzheimer’s, the vast majority of which are age 65 or older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, however, the annual number of new cases of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia is projected to double.
That’s partly why Baltimore-based Brightview Senior Living launched a new wellness initiative called “Bright Minds” earlier this fall. The program is currently active in Brightview’s 40 communities.
Bright Minds is built around four pillars: physical exercise, medical health and management, nutrition and social and intellectual engagement. The program is reinforced by a 2017 study published in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, which showed that adopting certain lifestyle habits may reduce the risk of developing dementia in the long-term.
While it’s focused on cognitive changes, Bright Minds isn’t limited to the provider’s Wellspring Village memory care settings. Instead, it’s meant to educate all of the provider’s residents, their loved ones and even staffers how following certain lifestyle habits now can lead to better brain health down the road, according to Dr. Patrick Doyle, Brightview’s corporate director of dementia care.
“We had a lot of residents … telling us how concerned they were about developing dementia and changes in their memory,” Doyle told Senior Housing News. “And they wanted to know what they could do to reduce their risk.”
Bright Minds includes highlighting certain programmatic elements, such as volunteer opportunities, fitness classes, social outings and games; providing educational resources; slinging brain-healthy foods and identifying them on the menu; and offering a physical and mental fitness program called “SPICE in Motion” in partnership with home health care giant Bayada.
Brightview is also working with Eversound, a brand of wireless, noise-cancelling headphones made specifically for older adults living with hearing loss. The condition has been linked to cognitive changes in several recent studies.
Many of these practices aren’t new. For instance, Bayada and Brightview started offering SPICE in Motion classes in September 2018, as a way to celebrate Active Aging Week. What is new, however, is the focus on brain health under the Bright Minds banner.
“Twenty years ago, everyone was so concerned with getting cancer,” Martha McClung, director of vibrant living with Brightview, told Senior Housing News. “Now, when you talk to any age group … there’s so much more concern about brain health.”
And Brightview hopes that the Bright Minds program can help it stand out as knowledgeable in the area of not only dementia care but cognitive changes in general.
“It helps to position us with prospects and referral sources as the experts that we are in this field,” Doyle said.
Montessori memory care
Another way senior living providers are standing out is by merging memory care practices with other popular concepts and philosophies. One such example of that trend is how more providers are exploring the Montessori method, a popular teaching approach in K-12 schools meant to foster freedom of choice and self-expression.
West Point, Pennsylvania-based Acts Retirement-Life Communities has implemented Montessori approaches as part of its overall memory care programming in two of its continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), Spring House Estates in Lower Gwynedd, Pennsylvania; and Park Pointe Village in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The communities are the first CCRCs credentialed under Montessori Inspired Lifestyle, a standard led by Center for Applied Research in Dementia founder Dr. Cameron Camp. The provider is also seeking the Montessori certification for two other CCRCs in Delaware and Florida.
Acts’ Montessori approach focuses on residents’ strengths, individual abilities, preferences and interests, according to Dr. Kelly Carney, the provider’s corporate director of memory care services.
“This teaches the staff how to essentially use each individual’s strengths and interests while integrating them into their day-to-day life in more meaningful ways,” Carney said.
For example, under the Montessori approach, memory care residents are tasked with planning or participating in certain activities that help them feel a sense of purpose. That might mean they’re in charge of planning for a holiday party, or preparing sandwiches for a local homeless shelter.
Acts also creates environments meant to accommodate people living with cognitive changes. Part of that approach includes putting engaging activities like puzzles and books in line of sight so that residents may use them as they please. The provider also updated some of its signage to fit in with the Montessori dementia care approach.
“Instead of labeling a bathroom as a bathroom, you might put out an actual picture of a toilet,” Carney said. “Or you may put out a sign next to the hydration station that says, please help yourself.”
Acts isn’t the only senior living provider implementing Montessori methods in its communities. Other Montessori Inspired Lifestyle-credentialed providers include Frontier Management and The Goodman Group. And Montessori ONE Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico is opening a 72-apartment assisted living and memory care community in Albuquerque, with programming and architectural design centered entirely in Montessori theory.
Another memory care approach is rooted in aiding memory care residents with greenery and gardening.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based Cadence Living recently partnered with Sabra to acquire Sunshine Care, a unique 58-unit memory care community in Poway, California.
The community, which is now named Cadence at Poway Gardens, is housed on 32 acres of fertile soil flanked by a scenic hillside. It offers a therapy program where memory care residents help grow more than 20,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables every year under the direction of a staff horticulturalist.
The community spans seven buildings, five of which are villas for low-acuity memory care residents with backyard gardening plots. The other two buildings are designed for medium-acuity and high-acuity memory care residents. Cadence at Poway Gardens also has a greenhouse.
The idea is to offer memory care residents different settings to live in as their cognitive abilities change, according to Cadence Living Principal Rob Leinbach.
“If your loved one is starting to have signs of dementia or other cognitive impairment, but they still can truly appreciate life and nature, we can offer that,” Leinbach told SHN. “And, as an individual’s dementia progresses, they don’t have to move to another community.”
It stands to reason that offering multiple levels of care could also help ease length-of-stay pressures that have mounted for memory care providers. In 2018, average length of stay was around 16 months. That compares to an average of about two years, prior to the Great Recession, TLG Family Management CEO Mitch Warren told SHN earlier this year. TLG operates memory care facilities under the Autumn Leaves brand.
Cadence’s Poway Gardens community, with its three levels of memory care and unique gardening program, represents a new breed of memory care properties. But offering more unique forms of memory care is important as prospective residents and their families look for communities that break the mold.
“In the past it’s been care focused, and we still have to be good at care,” Leinbach told SHN. “But the desire to focus more on the social programming and activities and the holistic wellness of residents will only continue to increase.”