Teaching old dogs new tricks

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John O'Connor, Editorial Director
John O'Connor, Editorial Director
I have to admit that my first visit to a nursing home was less than inspiring. The building was decrepit, the staff seemed exhausted and the persistent smell of urine was unforgettable. 

Worse still, residents were literally wasting away. Most appeared to be bedridden or barely ambulatory.
For its part, the facility's activity center consisted of a room with a television set. It hardly mattered that the picture was fuzzy, as most of the residents wheeled in front of the screen weren't watching, anyway. 

This place truly was a warehouse for the elderly. Sad to say, it was not conspicuously bad by the prevailing local standards of the time. Fortunately, much has since changed.

A federal law passed in 1987 ushered in new standards for resident treatment. These have greatly improved the way our oldest, frailest citizens are cared for. In recent years, consumers, the government and providers have increasingly embraced quality as an essential component of eldercare in America.

But perhaps one of the most powerful developments has been a growing push to use technology-based brain fitness tools that help residents retain and (to the extent possible) improve their cognitive abilities.
In continuing care retirement communities, assisted living facilities and nursing homes across the nation, these new products and services are enriching the lives of residents in ways that once would have been unimaginable.

Initial studies show that the worst that can happen is that people who engage in these activities gain additional proficiencies. The possible upside is almost unlimited.

A story that begins on page 28 addresses how this revolution is taking place. This push toward brain fitness is helping residents gain new independence. And even those with Alzheimer's disease or related dementias are making cognitive connections that have been nothing short of astonishing.

Operators also stand to gain from this movement. One payoff is that their residents are likely to be happier and healthier. Another is lowered caregiving costs. Yet another is retaining existing residents. Facilities also stand to see reduced liability exposure related to dementia-caused problems, such as falls, injuries or attacks on others.

We at McKnight's are thrilled to see this movement taking hold. That's why we are actively endorsing the continued push toward brain fitness in long-term care. In the coming months, we will be presenting more information on this issue, and we will be constructing a multidisciplinary panel to pursue new opportunities.

We hope that you'll embrace the brain fitness revolution, as well, if you have not already done so. To us, supporting this movement is, well, a no-brainer.