Happy caregiver man helping and supporting senior woman sitting outdoors in park.

A new eldercare pilot program will bring more holistic and individualized care to residents across the continuum, including high-need long-term care residents, organizers say. 

This Balanced Living program will require more staff hours and financial investments from facilities, but it has the promise to improve resident well-being and get ahead of profitable trends in the care sector, according to leaders with provider Brio Living Services.

The pilot launched Jan. 3 at Chelsea Retirement Community in Chelsea, MI, with plans to expand to Brio’s 18 other facilities, pending positive results. 

The program’s core appeal is giving residents a sense of continuity and holistic care throughout the care continuum, said Nicole Maag, chief of residential services at Brio. The Midwest-based organization provides a broad range of care from independent living and assisted living to skilled nursing and post-acute care. 

“What seniors and elders really want into their future is to continue to grow and evolve and have meaningful experiences,” Maag told McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. “Independent living, assisted living and long-term care were very siloed experiences. …We intentionally wanted to minimize that difference as much as possible.”

That siloing of events was contributing to residents being upset about transitioning from assisted living to skiled nursing, Maag explained. 

“Part of that is just the natural resistance to change,” she noted, “but it was also that we couldn’t really tell them that their lives and the things that were important to them were going to continue in a seamless way as they moved through the continuum.”

Individualizing holistic care

Balanced Living cultivates an unusual level of continuity among programming in order to ease the tension of transitions to higher-need levels of care. Residents also are given individual assessments at every level so that their passions and interests can be factored into regular monthly activities. 

Maag gave the example of a tai chi class that was started because of a small group of residents expressing interest in the activity. 

“In the past, that wouldn’t have had the traditional ROI because you’re only going to get a few people that are interested,” she explained. “But with balanced living, we have made that intentional commitment to find out what they want and when possible bring that in.”

Many activities are also run at all levels of the care continuum, with modifications made to keep them appropriate to the needs of the residents involved. 

Physical wellness is a baseline priority, according to Maag. This led Brio to partner with the National Institute for Fitness and Sport to bring fitness experts to work in several of their facilities. But other elements are also important to maintaining a holistic approach, according to Kathy Russell, executive director at Chelsea and two other Brio facilities.  

“The social and spiritual part of wellness is also a key component of Balanced Living and will set CRC apart from wellness programs at many other communities,” she said.

Maag was quick to say that favored old-fashioned events like bingo night are not going away, but she also added that aging services “must grow beyond the traditional ‘activities calendar’ and embrace the desire of residents to experience meaningful engagement, holistic wellness and lifelong learning.”

Some activities planned for the future are yoga classes, glamor photo shoots, gardening, and happy hours, as well as education and art activities. 

A program like Balanced Living certainly demands more facility time and financial resources, Maag acknowledged. The program is still in the pilot stage, and nursing homes’ current nationwide staffing and funding challenges raise the question of why a care provider should pour its resources into such individualized activities.

“What we hear as operators is we have to do something different,” Maag answered. “For us, it really became a question of can we not do it … By investing in this, we’re expecting that there will be an ROI.”

She compared the program with the growing Active Adult trend in eldercare.

“That’s what they’re selling — that you can have this active and vibrant lifestyle,” she said.

With a wave of new seniors eager for more meaningful retirement years, Brio expects that providing more opportunities for continued learning and holistic lifestyle activities will set facilities apart and lead to more residents and income in the future.