I learned how to approach older adults with deep empathy and respect while writing my master’s level thesis during college in 2006. At that time I was studying senior living closely and spent countless hours in communities. My research was also influenced by my close relationship with the older members of my family; this helped me learn early on that aging doesn’t have to be a negative experience. My work opened my eyes to just how many older adults were bored, lonely and isolated and how this presented an opportunity for improving their lives through meaningful engagement. 

This realization ignited my passion to positively disrupt the resident experience and this is why I started Linked Senior. As we built our vision, my team and I sought out input from older adults and caregivers themselves, because we knew our success would be based on how well we could build for our end users: the frontline staff. These individuals approach their work every day wanting to help residents experience purpose, meaning and joy. To truly improve the resident experience, innovators in the engagement field need to find ways to remove barriers faced by  frontline staff. This opportunity to move beyond the status quo is so exciting!

Unfortunately, these obstacles cannot be removed unless management and owners understood the transformative power of quality resident engagement and decided to make an investment in it. It is clear that this is not yet the norm in senior living and so many residents continue to have unmet needs and unacknowledged preferences because staff simply aren’t receiving the support they need from leadership. It is a sad reality that the cost of one monthly antipsychotic prescription for a resident is sometimes higher than the activity director’s budget for the whole building! 

Many communities aren’t currently using technology that could easily show a correlation between person-centered engagement and positive health outcomes and so the ROI for optimizing resident engagement isn’t clear enough yet. By using a digital tool communities can, in real-time, measure, manage and analyze resident data to help optimize their engagement strategy. A major problem in senior care today is related to staff retention and turnover. Conservatively, it is estimated that the range of long-term care staff turnover today is between 45% and 66%. This turnover can be addressed head on once organization leaders prioritize the engagement department as a revenue generating component of the business. 

The engagement field has made incredible strides in just the past three years to make this kind of personalized assessment possible. Innovators are moving beyond paper-based tools and using technology to help them record and track resident preferences and health outcomes. By doing this, frontline staff can adapt their engagement strategies as the needs and preferences of residents change making their work even more impactful because they are using a resident-driven approach. 

There are many examples of how this resident drive approach to engagement is developing in exciting ways right now in the market and the examples below are why I’d recommend the Activity Director profession to anyone entering the aging field today. 

  1. The power of social determinants of health (SDOH) to impact the health and well-being of residents is finally being acknowledged in this field. In fact, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently announced that they will now allow Medicare Advantage and Part D plans to offer supplemental benefits that address SDOH. 
  2. Prescribing meaningful and personalized resident engagement therapy, rather than an antipsychotic or other inappropriate drug, is both less costly and healthier for residents. A recent linked senior study funded by the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation found that by increasing engagement for residents in long-term care, providers can both reduce antipsychotic drug use and behavioral expressions associated with dementia.
  3. It is no secret among life enrichment professionals that no amount of money can buy the feeling one has after helping a resident living with dementia find purpose and joy from meaningful engagement. It has been exciting to see the creative, purpose-making work being done by Anne Basting of TimeSlips and Angie McAllister of Signature Healthcare in their immersive theater project in a nursing home as they strive to bring joy to all residents.

Our company has discussions every day with providers who are shifting their mindset and deciding to invest in the value of resident engagement. Nothing is more exciting to us than collaborating with frontline teams and their organizations once they’ve made this commitment to improving the quality of life of their residents and staff.  Our company is proud to have a 96% renewal rate and we know that this success is only because our clients have fully committed to the vision of better resident engagement and person-centered care. It is an honor and a privilege to work with them each day to transform the lives of residents and life enrichment staff.

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