Listening to resident engagement professionals talk about the great, innovative work they do and the challenges they overcome every day is inspiring and exciting for the future of resident enrichment in long-term care and senior living.

In a recent webinar, “Successes and Lessons Learned from Resident Engagement Champions,” I came away with such admiration for the people who spend every day attending to the well-being and quality of life of their residents. 

One common thread weaved through the conversation, and that was the value of really getting to know each resident. One might think that it happens effectively, but research shows it doesn’t: senior care communities have poor processes and tools.

While it is important to create a framework for people to use, they need to be able to take this and customize it for their individual communities and residents. 

“Everyone is different and has unique needs. Giving people a framework and letting them take that and be creative enables meaningful experiences,” said Janean Kinzie, vice president of social wellness and enrichment at American Senior Communities. 

Meeting the challenges head on

Whether they’re considered products of the pandemic or were just exacerbated by it, two top challenges — staffing and mental health — have come front and center for life enrichment professionals. 

For instance, Kinzie said, “I think there is greater recognition about mental health and fewer stigmas. We’re seeing people with unique and acute mental health concerns, and thataffects our approach to life enrichment and how we can get programming and meaning to these people.” 

She stressed that residents’ mental health needs call for life enrichment professionals to have greater education about these issues. 

Moving forward, Kinzie suggested that this need for her profession to have some mental health knowledge and training will only grow. This is particularly true as communities continue to ramp up their efforts to reduce antipsychotic use and see more residents with cognitive impairments

As for staffing, this continues to be an issue, but Kinzie suggested that life enrichment is one answer. She observed that she is seeing such professionals being hired as their efforts to keep residents engaged help reduce staff time necessary for behavior management and other time-consuming tasks, in addition to improving residents’ joy, sense of purpose and quality of life.

Getting to know residents and how they think and feel can lead to some “aha” moments. Kinzie said, “I’ve got some communities where still it’s very appropriate to play all that ‘50s music, and then some I’ve gone into and they’re playing the ‘80s, and that is the right genre. It helps to look at residents’ interests.” 

It’s also important to know how people like to be engaged. For instance, if most of your residents like to do their own thing, you don’t want to be putting 90% of your resources into group activities. 

“It’s our job to make sure we’re providing meaningful experiences in the way that residents want to be engaged,” she offered. 

Residents may not really care what happens at 10:00 a.m. on the calendar, and it’s important to know that. This is where knowing the culture of your facility and your residents comes in.

Thinking out of the box

It’s always great to see new ideas that catch fire. For example, Amanda Yelenick, vice president of life enrichment at Morning Pointe Senior Living, said, “We have an event we call ‘Seniors Got Talent.’ It just started as a talent show in one of our communities, and now it has grown, and we do it in four different markets.”

Kinzie added, “We’re doing ASC Has Talent with residents and employees because everybody’s got a talent, everybody’s got a story.”

Yelenick said, “Another initiative we started a year ago involved hiring older people for a position we called ‘hospitality aide.’ One person in this position started a men’s group that is thriving and popular.” 

You never know where a great idea will come from.

Now, replicating such efforts may not be practical or appropriate for every community, but they can take the framework to customize such initiatives and make them their own. Yelenick said, “In creating a framework, we can [get people] to use their creativity and their unique resources to create something really great.”

We also need to celebrate the diversity in our communities. Kinzie and her team have a life enrichment facility assessment that they conduct twice a year, so they can keep their fingers on the pulse of residents. This not only helps determine what kind of movies and music will be most popular but also the types of wellness efforts that they need and want.

Not perfect, but passionate

Working as a life enrichment professional is more of a journey than a destination. As Kinsey said, “I am not perfect and certainly don’t know everything. I just try to get everything right. If we try something and it doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. You don’t have to be perfect.” 

However, she and her colleagues know that “what we are here for is to honor our residents. We’re privileged to take care of them.” 

Toward this end, both Kinzie and Yelenick stressed how important it is to spend time with residents and really find out who they are and what’s important to them. 

Watch the entire webinar program here.

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO and co-founder of Linked Senior, creators of the Life Story product.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.

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