Are your residents getting the drug or the VIP treatment?

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Charles de Vilmorin
Charles de Vilmorin

We live in a world that values the personalized experience above all. From your Amazon shopping home page, to your smart car and television, to the line at the grocery store, the experience is deeply personal. You are greeted by your name, offered things based on past behaviors and in turn, you expect things to be adapted to your needs and preferences in real-time. It would be difficult to name an industry where things aren't personalized and where our preferences aren't considered. How does the senior care industry measure up when it comes to prioritizing the personalized experience?

Most older adults in the United States would prefer to live in their own homes and communities as they age. A person's home is comfortable, the layout is familiar and it holds years of memories and countless items of immense importance: It represents the ultimate personal experience. Despite these preferences, there were 1.5 million older adults over the age of 65 in 2016 who were living in institutional settings.  

Whether a person moves from their home to a facility due to chronic illness, need for additional support with activities of daily living or by their own choice, it is the job of senior living providers to ensure that their experience in that community is both person-centered and fulfilling. Senior care needs to offer a personalized, VIP experience like the hospitality offered today in hotels and fine dining restaurants to paying customers.

Instead of the VIP treatment though, more often than not, older adults in institutional settings are given the drug treatment. A Human Rights Watch report, released in February 2018, found that approximately 179,000 people living in U.S. nursing facilities are being given antipsychotic medications even though they don't have approved psychiatric diagnoses. Time and time again, research has found that a primary main reason these antipsychotic medications are prescribed is to address unwanted resident behaviors. Yet, these behaviors primarily arise from the unmet needs and preferences of the resident. France recently announced that it will stop the reimbursement of some of these ineffective, and many times harmful, medications.

A VIP treatment for every older adult means making the hospitality mindset a priority every day, no matter a person's current needs and preferences. Engagement should be based on the person's needs and preferences and match their abilities. A personalized experience beyond the typical 3 B's of playing bingo, reading the bible and celebrating birthdays should be the goal.

As summer vacation quickly approaches, providers only need to look to their favorite hotels and restaurants as a guide to for how to offer the best care:

  • Be empathetic
    There is a special kind of feeling a customer has when the concierge at a hotel or a general manager at a favorite restaurant can anticipate their needs without them having to ask for assistance. As a regular at that hotel or dining establishment, the staff have come to know the guest's habits, allergies, preferences, needs, and therefore have no trouble empathizing with them because of their intimate knowledge of who they are. 
  • Be present
    Few gifts are as meaningful as the gift of attention. Why is traveling for leisure such a thrill? Why do we count down the days until our next meal at our favorite restaurant? Because the customer knows that from the time they walk in the door until their visit is complete, the staff will be listening carefully to their every request to ensure that the experience will be the best it can be.
  • Go above and beyond
    True hospitality means meeting the needs of every customer and then going one step further to create a truly delightful experience. When a customer receives precisely what they want plus a thoughtful gift or service that is tailored to them personally, they walk away knowing that they are valued.

Although these three examples are taken from the hospitality industry, the parallels to the senior living industry are clear. A personalized experience in a senior care community means that a resident should expect empathy, attention and services that go above and beyond their needs and preferences to show that they are valued for who they are as a person.

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior.

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