Avoiding Barriers to Optimizing Engagement

Elderly couple playing cards with younger woman | Resident Engagement

Resident engagement is today’s most untapped opportunity for enhancement of person-centered care, high quality of life for residents and improved business indicators. I believe it has tremendous potential for us, our residents, and their families.”  – Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D.,Founder and President of Juniper Communities

This past year, Linked Senior sent a survey to Activity Directors nationwide to better understand what they enjoy most about their work and what barriers they face day-to-day, especially when it comes to their ability to meaningfully engage the residents in their care. More than 300 people responded and shared some eye-opening insights:

  • 58% of respondents working in long-term care indicated that documentation (care plans, notes, monitoring participation) was the most challenging part of their job
  • 42% of respondents working in memory-care facilities indicated that their residents’ experience of cognitive impairment or dementia was the biggest obstacle they face when trying to engage residents
  • Nearly half of respondents, no matter what care setting they work in, stated that getting to know the resident is what they prefer most about their job

These survey results mirror what Linked Senior is already hearing from providers across the board as it relates to the numerous benefits of optimizing personalized engagement. In 2017, Linked Senior collaborated with Kendal on Hudson in New York to create a case study for LeadingAge titled Reducing Antipsychotics Through Digital Engagement. The study outlines how this Kendal community used therapeutic engagement to reduce the use of unnecessary antipsychotic drugs to zero while also increasing staff efficiencies and resident quality of life. After the project, 90% of Kendal residents participating were at, or above, the key indicator of “individual fulfillment.”

Activity Directors are doing their best each day and want to dedicate most of their time to providing personalized engagement to residents. Communities like Kendal are committed to investing resources into optimizing engagement, which is not the case for many senior living communities.

Often, residents living with cognitive impairment, or those living with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias, are not receiving engagement that fits their current preferences and abilities. Instead, high turnover rates and limited funding mean staff members must do their best to address each resident’s needs, even if that means using unnecessary and potentially harmful antipsychotic medications. According to a July 2018 report from the National Partnership to Improve Dementia Care in Nursing Homes, the national prevalence of antipsychotic medication use for long-stay nursing home residents has declined over time, but is still at 14.8%. 

Hundreds of thousands of residents in senior care communities across the nation are experiencing the negative impact of inadequate engagement. Approximately 50% of older adults in nursing homes are experiencing Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia and, according to the American Geriatrics Society, 40% of older adults in nursing homes also face depression. If a resident is not receiving meaningful and personalized engagement opportunities, they could show signs of aggression, agitation, and anxiety.

Luckily, there are numerous innovative, therapeutic-engagement products and services that help staff members meaningfully connect with residents, providing an outlet for their expression without relying on antipsychotic medications:

Music and Memory: A non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of the elderly or infirm through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.

Validation Training Institute: Validation is the original, evidence-based, person-centered approach created by Naomi Feil, supported by 40 years of practical experience and research, into a complete, globally used, relationship-building caregiver training method.

Montessori for Dementia: Jennifer Brush, MA, CCC/SLP has combined Dr. Montessori’s philosophy of learning and living with what we know about aging- and dementia-care best practices. It is not a technique, task, or intervention. It’s a way of living one’s life fully.

Linked Senior’s latest research on engagement (in partnership with the Responsive Group in Toronto and Western Oregon University and supported by the Baycrest-led Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation), indicates that meaningful therapeutic engagement can have a considerable impact on positive health outcomes for residents. The defining feature of a successful long-term care or senior living community should be that it provides all residents, no matter their abilities or preferences, abundant opportunities to live a joyful and purposeful life each day.

Related: How Therapeutic Engagement Positively Impacts the Health of Seniors

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