The Silver Spoon Dining Club — an innovative approach to address weight loss issues for residents with late-stage dementia  — is not only realizing its goals of improving resident weight loss and reducing nutritional supplement intake. More importantly, it’s also bringing socialization and a bounty of “feel good” benefits to residents, non-nursing volunteers and staff at Central Baptist Village.

Offering three levels of memory care on its 10-acre campus in residential Norridge, IL, the continuing care community celebrates its seniors and strives to improve their quality of life and care on a daily basis. CBV regularly develops therapeutic programs and provides advanced training for employees to enhance resident care.

“Silver Spoon,” as it’s lovingly referred to by participants, opens up a unique volunteer opportunity for employees who provide personalized dining assistance for residents with late-stage dementia. CBV’s Champion Committee, a problem-solving team that meets monthly and pursues ways to improve quality of life for the residents and staff, came up with the concept.

“Years ago, while focusing on end of life care, we were finding that dining for residents with dementia was a constant frustration,” notes Director of Nursing Karen Haedo. “With our population needing more and more assistance, dining became rushed and chaotic — we couldn’t get everyone fed at once. Staff and residents were feeling uncomfortable and stressed.”

The committee explored different angles, ultimately realizing that adding extra people to provide dining assistance could reduce stress levels and create a calmer environment. Now, music plays in the background, conversation and laughter fill the room, and non-nursing volunteers offer companionship to “their peeps.”

Nutrition improves, relationships blooming

Since the program began with 12 staff volunteers in December 2016, in one year’s time CBV achieved a 2.4% reduction in weight loss and a 7.2% total reduction in nutritional supplementation. Positive outcomes include one resident returning to her previous body weight in just one month, and within six months, gaining 13 pounds.

Yet the greatest attributes of Silver Spoon go way beyond quantitative clinical improvements. The program brings reduced stress, rewarding relationships, stronger team building and more smiles at day’s end.

Non-nursing staff volunteers — whose roles don’t normally connect them with residents — go through extensive training to understand how to deal with memory care issues and “speak dementia.” They see the world through the eyes of residents living with dementia, which helps them provide mealtime assistance that’s individualized and guided by the resident’s wishes. Volunteers master other skills to connect with and create a pleasant, calm social experience for their diners.

“Residents feel more comfortable with one-on-one care. And when they’re calmer, they enjoy the meal, the company around them and socialization,” explains Stacy Kosmen, RD, LDN, Nutrition Care Manager, CBV/Morrison Community Living (provider of dining services).

One unanticipated benefit is the positive motivation, increased independence and sense of accomplishment for these residents.

“At the start, one resident required full assistance. Yet with her volunteer’s regular encouragement, including showing her how to use her utensils, the resident often eats independently now — that’s huge: She knows she can do this again.”

Connections grow for residents, staff alike

In addition to residents socializing and engaging more during their meals, the new dining environment is just as nourishing for the nursing staff, says CNA and team lead for the dementia unit Jeanette Castro.

“Before, we worried about residents possibly falling, trying to leave their chairs, setting off alarms and becoming agitated with the chaos. Now with more trained people to assist them, the eating experience becomes quite pleasant. The bond with residents is stronger, more like a spiritual connection that goes beyond meeting their physical needs,” she explains.

“Volunteers free up the staff, and that gives us time to find joy. We get to bring out the positive feelings, connect with the residents — nurture the reasons we went into nursing — the loving, softer side.”

Benefits for program participants come full circle as volunteers enthusiastically share their appreciation for the program. Marketing Admissions Counselor Gail Henderson joined to educate herself and learn more about dementia since her mother lives with it. She’s a morning person who arrives for breakfast. “I have my peeps and I love them! It’s an incredible way to start the day as I get a huge feel-good. By serving you are served in return,” shares Gail.

Her understanding and excitement for CBV’s memory care support has grown through her Silver Spoon experiences.

“I’ve become close with CNAs who I might not have had the opportunity to get to know the way I do now. When I’m touring [with guests], I feel more comfortable in how to present our level of memory support. I have a better understanding, a huge appreciation for the work that goes on in that unit.”

Extensive design process

There’s more to Silver Spoon than meets the eye: Among the challenges, Illinois requires individuals to be certified to provide hands-on feeding assistance to dining room residents. They must go through lengthy, intensive training, and after formal classroom work, they’re observed feeding residents with the trainer present.

To meet stringent state regulations, Karen and her team worked with industry consultant Jeannine Forrest, Ph.D., RN, president and CEO of Through the Forrest, LLC. She guided CBV as the team designed a program that took three attempts before being approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health. As originator of the successful program, CBV will join their consultant in delivering a Memory Care session, “Welcome to the Silver Spoon Dining Club!” at the 2018 LeadingAge Illinois Annual Meeting, which runs next week (April 17-19). Team members could not find a successful model anywhere in the state and now want to share their process with others.

With the program in its third year, plans include expanding to a second floor in the skilled care unit where residents are a bit more independent, yet more socialization can improve their dining experience. More volunteers are needed to expand.

“Silver Spoon isn’t so much about weight loss and reducing supplements,” DON Haedo reflects. “It’s really about connections. It’s a chance to make those moments enjoyable, help the residents — and us — feel connected. That’s really what it’s about.”

With more than 20 years of experience in senior living, Julie Stevens serves as Director of Sales and Marketing at Central Baptist Village a Life Plan Community in Norridge, IL. Unique among continuing care communities, Central Baptist Village offers three levels of memory care to accommodate the specialized needs of its residents with dementia. A 5-star rated community, and a Chicago Tribune Top Workplace, CBV continually develops new and innovative programs to fulfill its mission of serving and celebrating seniors.