Editor’s Note: We are thrilled to launch Memory Care Business, a weekly newsletter that will inform memory care professionals about the latest clinical innovations, breakthroughs in medical research and technology, best practices in operations, deals shaping the sector, and more. Thank you to those who have already subscribed, and we invite others to click here to receive Memory Care Business each week.
Waltonwood Senior Living has partnered with Wayne State University to form a program aimed at improving the lives of memory care residents by way of building intergenerational connections, the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.
Known as the National Alzheimer’s Buddies program (NAB), Waltonwood partnered this month with Wayne State’s Institute of Gerontology to launch the program, which will pair qualified college students with memory care residents living with dementia.
The program will allow intergenerational connections, with programming to focus on socialization between generations, from sharing a meal to walking a dog or holding light conversation. Waltonwood has partnered with Wayne State over the last 15 years for various programming and support groups.
Waltonwood Life Enrichment Director Lindsay Charlefour said the program will grow across the company’s portfolio of 12 communities as students’ schedules permit them to meet with residents and share quality time.
“We gave them the basics there as well just to set them up for success so that it will set our residents up for success as well,” Charlefour told Memory Care Business.
This program aligns memory care with a larger trend within the senior living space, of fostering intergenerational connections. Providers are creating intergenerational models for several reasons, including a recognition that baby boomers are coming into the space with a new set of expectations.
“The baby boomers are just not going to be accepting of the ‘it’s Tuesday, therefore you do this, this and this,’ — that just won’t happen,” Brandywine Living CEO Brenda Bacon said last year at the Senior Housing News BUILD event. “All of us need to find ways to make sure that there are lots of choices; that there’s real engagement, laughter and fun.”
And — like Waltonwood — providers are turning to universities to help achieve this goal, with one example being Koelsch’s University Village project in the Vancouver, Washington area.
Students in the program must undergo a background check and various health screenings, along with training sessions, before being placed in contact with memory care residents. So far, over 16 students have signed up to volunteer their time with a memory care resident, and the program is popular among the students and residents alike.
Meetings start at one visit per week and can range depending on scheduling, with students connecting with their “buddies” at a specific time each week to not disrupt a resident’s daily activities.
“It’s about building that trust and that foundation and the relationships first,” Charlefour said. “There’s endless possibilities that they can do.”
The program also has another aim: to remove the stigma of dementia and help students understand the perspectives of older adults, Charlefour added. The buddies program also helps prevent social isolation of memory care residents, something that the pandemic brought to the forefront of senior living.
“Having a different energy within the community really brings the residents to life and so I think that that will promote more communication. It will promote more alertness,” Charlefour said.
In the future, Charlefour said she hopes more senior living operators will consider similar partnerships with local universities to promote intergenerational connections, while pushing for advanced technology entering the space that will improve resident and employee quality of life.
“Everyone has purpose and they have joy,” Charlefour said. “Our job is to celebrate that and make sure that we’re the ones providing that opportunity. So the more knowledgeable we are, the more open minded we are, the more successful our residents will be and live their best life.”