Senior living operators are prioritizing personalized wellness services as residents move into communities with a growing list of unique needs and wants.
That has pushed senior living operators including Liberty Senior Living, Arrow Senior Living and Sunshine Retirement Living to connect with residents even before they move in so they can tailor programming and services to those preferences.
The result is wellness programming that may not look the same from one resident to another. For example, some Liberty Senior Living residents are even playing laser tag, according to Haley Kinne-Norris, who is a wellness and enrichment coordinator with the Wilmington, North Carolina-based operator.
Other ways operators are personalizing wellness and care is by fine-tuning staffing schedules to more efficiently anticipate and handle resident needs, and by forging closer connections with residents and their families.
Another reason operators are tailoring their experiences is that residents “have a lot more information, and they have a lot more choices,” according to Sunshine Retirement Living Wellness Director Lauren Dubay. Not only do residents have more choices, but they also increasingly have a more prominent voice regarding what they want and need.
“I had a family member come in and say ‘I want my mom to take a tablespoon of coconut oil because I saw a social media ad that coconut oil can help prevent cognitive loss,’” Dubay said during Senior Housing News’ DISHED/WELLNESS event in Atlanta earlier this week.
Changing needs and wants
Covid-19 delayed moves to senior living for many would-be residents for one reason or another. Now, many are entering communities at an older age than they otherwise would have, and with more care needs than before the pandemic.
“The residents are getting older. They’re coming to us with more comorbidities and a lot of diagnoses and people are living longer,” said on the panel. “We’re having to make adjustments.”
That has put the onus on senior living operators to stay on top of the latest trends as well as educate both families and workers.
A resident council at an Arrow Senior Living community made it clear they would like to see soul food added to the menu. So, the Arrow staff “went to the grocery store, we got the ingredients, and now it’s on our menu,” Arrow Managing Director Crystal Parrish said during the panel discussion.
To successfully tailor the experiences for residents, Parrish believes in embracing family involvement as early and as often as possible.
“We’re constantly asking for that feedback,” Parrish said. Arrow does six-month check-ins with families to report on their well-being.
Like Dubay, Parrish noted that residents are coming into senior living with higher acuity needs than they did in recent years, something that impacts not only what they need, but what the community needs in order to care for them. Parrish said that the first step for operators is determining how much care residents will need before they move into a community in order to train staff accordingly.
When a resident moves into an independent living unit at one of Liberty’s 17 communities, a life enrichment director like Kinne-Norris meets with them and establishes a profile that includes nutrition needs and dining tastes as well as spiritual desires and beliefs. The profile also includes physical characteristics like strength, flexibility and balance.
“I push to start everyone in the beginner level just so that they feel comfortable,” Kinne-Norris said. “Once they have the social aspect of an activity down, they can grow to an intermediate or advanced level.”
The rise of active adult living has in recent years thrown a curveball to senior living operators with independent living units in their communities — as has rising resident acuity. That is also pushing more operators to personalize wellness and care for residents to differentiate themselves. .
“I know [active adult] has been around for a while, but now people actually know what it is,” Dubay said. “There are lots of levels of care and so much information for the adult children to find the best place for their loved ones.”
Sunshine is moving wellness programming up the acuity ladder by incorporating it into standalone memory care communities.
“Our memory care programming is very different from our IL and AL programming – it’s dementia-focused,” Dubay said.
She added that the memory care wellness program consists of Montessori-based practices, which have risen in recent years as a way to engage residents and give them a sense of purpose and community..
“We are also having our residents help out with our ‘snack-tivities’ and help with food prep,” Dubay said.
Liberty is taking a data-rich approach in the company’s quest to prioritize and personalize wellness
Residents walking around Liberty Senior Living communities are given a smartwatch that helps Kinne-Norris and her staff track programming and participation. The data gives the operator’s leaders a sense of what residents truly like — not just what they put on a survey — as well as which residents are actually participating in the wellness programming.
Armed that data, Liberty can fine-tune programming and services to maximize engagement and participation.
“I’m proud to say that most of our buildings are over 90% active in at least two activities per week such as a wellness class or going to the gym themselves,” Kinne-Norris said.
Kinne-Norris was one of Liberty’s first wellness interns before being hired full-time as a community-level wellness director. She sees internships with local universities, like the kind she took part in, as ways to both mitigate staffing issues and develop talent.
“That helps us because we get an extra set of hands in a wellness class and in an activity and some different ideas, but it also helps residents to have an intergenerational experience,” Kinne-Norris said.
Partnering with local institutions is also something Dubay advocates for. And it is also a priority at Arrow, which partners with local colleges and universities. .
“I think there are some communities that don’t think that they can do it because there is red tape, but it’s a great thing to invest in,” she said.
For Arrow, the frontline staff focus focused on culture
“When you pull it back to culture and making people feel good and doing what’s right by them, we are moving forward,” Parrish said. “We’re keeping our residents longer and we’re keeping our staff longer.”
One helpful new tool for Arrow has been The Archer, a scheduling app the operator developed as part of a company-wide “hackathon” in January. The ap is integrated into the operator’s existing Arrow App, which lets residents view schedules or menus and communicate with one another.
“The idea is to be more conscious of your budget, how we staff and to work on efficiencies – to make it easier to see if you’re staffed appropriately at a specific community,” Parrish said.