Close up image of a caretaker helping older woman walk

To achieve a higher quality of life and longer periods of stay, retirement communities should consider a robust and fully comprehensive programming strategy. To address the needs of residents, they should aim at creating avenues of engagement opportunities for anyone at any time. Think of it as simple customer service. To achieve this, the options should take into account three core elements:  It should start with the personal interest of the residents, including their life stories and what they would like to stay engaged with. Secondly, it should hit all dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, social, spiritual, physical and educational. And finally, it should be adaptable so that it is accessible and meaningful, no matter where the resident is on their physical or cognitive journey.

Creating appropriate experiences for any given individual on an ongoing basis is a steep challenge.  A programming director’s position is similar to a classroom teacher: being in charge of a group that needs to be engaged while taking into account individual backgrounds and challenges. The interesting aspect is that that the typical American classroom has one teacher for usually less than 24 students – whereas many retirement communities have one staff member for 30, 50 or even 100 residents, sometimes with little resources and high expectations from residents, families, superiors and, in some cases, surveyors.

At Linked Senior, we have been spending a good amount of time helping clients analyze their needs and challenges and this can be visually represented as a matrix.

Each X represents a type of program that needs to be available at all times.  In any given community or level of care, there are low & high functioning residents and people in between. Some residents will only be engaged in one on ones. They may be asocial, anti-social or just bedridden, while some others will only participate in group activities (important for the benefits of socialization). Other challenges arise when mixing low and high functioning residents together in a group.

This matrix helps to visualize and understand in what areas one might be providing too many activities or where engagement avenues are lacking. For example,  one might realize that they have nothing in place to serve spiritual needs for lower functioning residents in one on ones. The importance of such a tool is that it sheds light on who is being served well and which residents may be left out. 

Finally, the value of such analysis helps avoid poor customer service and neglect of individuals who are at risk of quicker physical & cognitive decline. This is done by supporting physically and cognitively dependent residents better and actually creating an environment that will attract higher functioning residents and retaining them longer.

Charles de Vilmorin is the CEO of Linked Senior