Eleanor Feldman Barbera, Ph.D.

I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several senior living conventions recently and my enthusiasm for the experience has yet to diminish. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to be present for a conference (or if it’s been a while since your last one), consider these reasons for attending:

• There are interesting discussions that directly relate to day-to-day work. Hearing different ideas and perspectives can offer a new way to handle problems and can help you get out of a work rut.

• The conference discourse provides a great opportunity to brainstorm, on your own or with colleagues and coworkers.

• Attendees are often equally enthusiastic about LTC and the connections made with others there can help implement changes within your organization.

• The new products offered in the expo hall can improve operations and the lives of residents and staff.

• Sharing the lessons learned with coworkers can expand the value of the conference.

If an onsite convention isn’t possible for now, consider attending a virtual event, such as the annual McKnight’s Online Expo, which not only offers educational sessions but also has chat rooms and a virtual expo hall.

My experience at ALFA

My most recent conference was the Assisted Living Federation of America convention last week in Tampa, where I spoke at the session “The Importance of Environmental Factors in Senior Living.” During my whirlwind visit to ALFA, I was also able to take in two presentations and spend time in the expo hall.

One of the sessions was on using recreational activities as a way to improve morale among residents and staff and to promote your organization in the community. I’ve spoken about these goals in my audio, “10 Steps to Making Recreation the Most Valuable Department in the Nursing Home,” and I was encouraged to hear of unique ways senior organizations have been serving these dual objectives, such as knitting caps for premature babies.

The conversation among participants helped me think about the impact that the pro-social engagement of residents has on reducing the problem of senior bullying. If seniors are busy doing good in the world, not only are they less likely to be engaging in negative behavior such as bullying, but the organization has helped to create a culture of caring.

The second talk was a roundtable on engaging staff in order to reduce turnover. The suggestions focused on hiring for attitude and training for skills, being clear about the mission of the organization, and implementing programs that reward employees for their good work.

Expo hall jewels

As usual, I searched the expo hall to find products I knew my residents would appreciate.

Having heard far too many elders complain bitterly about pureed food, I was delighted to find a company that offered puree solidified into colorful, shaped molds that were far more appetizing than typical puree. The saleslady looked askance at my glee about getting to sample her wares — but regular readers know I like to experience things from the residents’ perspective whenever possible.

She gave me a tiny sample of the chocolate mint dessert. It was so tasty I wanted to lick every bit off the spoon like a kid with a bowl of ice cream. (I refrained.) The desserts and dishes such as macaroni and cheese (which looks like … macaroni and cheese!) are packed with a day’s worth of nutrition: If the resident eats nothing but this one serving all day, no other supplements are necessary.

Another company that grabbed my attention was one with clever products for people with dementia. They sold a large analog clock registering day or night — helpful for residents who can get confused about whether it’s 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon.

They also had a wooden “gentleman’s box” with varied latches on it and chambers in which to hold treasures like marbles or candy. The salesman told me that men with dementia spend hours fiddling with the box. The same went for women with dementia holding the “twiddles activity muff,” which is a muff-like stuffed animal with a squeezable ball on the inside and absorbing tactile activities on the outside, such as ribbons that can be attached to and unattached from buttons.

Simple radios, colorful plates designed for easier eating, and one-way drinking straws (good for those with limited ability to draw up liquid through straws) were among the other creative solutions to common challenges for elders and those with dementia.

I was onsite at the ALFA convention for only about 24 hours, but it generated many ideas that will allow me to better be of service to the residents and facilities I encounter. If you have the opportunity to attend a conference, I highly recommend it — and if you see me there, please say hello!

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident’s Guide, is a 2014 Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the 2014 American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with nearly 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.