Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

“You do so much for seniors,” my friends tell me, having heard too many stories about the horrors of nursing homes. “Those places need more people like you.”

“Actually,” I respond, “there are lots of people like me out there trying to do the right thing for our elders.”

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the 50th annual LeadingAge Florida convention this month, where I was speaking about the psychosocial needs of baby boomers. I was surrounded by people who, like me, were all jazzed up about long-term care and excited about the possibilities for improving services.

My talk about the needs of baby boomers generated an exciting exchange of ideas, with members of the audience sharing innovative best practices with each other.  Among the best practices mentioned:

  • To address boomers’ need and expectation of being socially connected while in a long-term care setting, many of the Florida facilities have WiFi and use the Internet to help families stay connected.  Skype and other video chat services are available for care plan meetings as well.
  • Individual preferences for music were met at one site through an iPod program that offered an iPod for each interested resident, complete with “their” music chosen from the thousands of songs in the home’s music library.
  • Lending credence to my assertion that a strong resident council is the driving force of a good home, one CCRC reported that the dynamic and thriving resident council of their independent living facility generates innovative suggestions that the administration follows to make successful improvements.  For tips on how to rejuvenate a lackluster resident council, start here for the first in a 3-part blog series designed to create effective meetings that energize your community.
  • The boomers, who grew up in a more affluent time than our current cohort of residents, are able to continue their lifelong ability to purchase items by shopping online at homes with Internet access.  Other audience members reported the use of a staff member who acted as personal shopper.  Creating a way for residents to obtain personal items is essential to increase their sense of control and independence.  It reduces the need for them to rely on family members (if they have them) or the kindness of strangers (if they don’t).
  • To meet boomers’ expectation of continuing education and personal growth in their later years, several facilities offered recreational activities run by the residents themselves.  Teaching classes based on their careers and interests provides a way for elders to continue giving back to the community and for attendees to expand their horizons.
  • One home addressed the boomer assumption of excellent customer service by incorporating regular reviews of direct care staff by residents and family members – and linking the reviews to salary increases!
  • Facilities with Internet access assist residents in choosing clothes and other items that suit their preferences, rather than relying solely on the choices offered through a traveling clothing store.  Another community offers residents options for quilts and other ways to personalize their rooms and encourages families to bring items from home.
  • To create a more accommodating schedule for the residents, audience members reported using various techniques, including providing a choice of times to participate in rehab and a very successful flexible dining program which allows residents to choose when they want to eat within a window of several hours per meal.

The baby boomers will demand adjustments in how we deliver services to our elders.  It was heartening to hear how many service providers are anticipating these demands and wisely altering their methods now, before the flood of boomers arrives.  Many of the most progressive ideas were among the organizations that have adopted the culture change model.  Facilities that haven’t yet changed their culture can borrow from culture change successes, revamping one aspect of care at a time.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D., the author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is an accomplished speaker and consultant with over 16 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care. This blog complements her award-winning website, MyBetterNursingHome.com, which has more on how to create long-term care where EVERYBODY thrives.