If there’s one essential need we all share as humans, it’s meaningful engagement with the world and others around us. Sure, we also need food, water, shelter and other basic necessities, but without some sort of meaningful enrichment in our lives are we really living? From a young age we are taught social skills, how to get along with others, how to spread kindness and joy, and yet, when we reach our late life years we often see a decline in this very thing that is so foundational. We know that meaningful engagement, particularly among memory care patients, not only elevates the quality of life but often extends it for many. It provides purpose, joy, and connection.
Brittany Tran, Customer Relationship Specialist at LifeLoop shares her perspective after more than a decade working within the memory support community, “We all have a human need to help, to contribute something and help others, and to also be helped. During our seasons of life, we’ll all need both.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, finding ways to connect with memory care residents became harder. Fear of spreading illness, quarantines, short staffing, and family members kept at bay all became part of the perfect storm of isolation for residents.
Many communities, including Agemark’s CountryHouse, a LifeLoop client, got creative in the way they supported their memory care residents during this time. Chloe Eckberg, CountryHouse’s Enrichment Coordinator shared their 1:1 approach. They kept gatherings small but plentiful and used every interaction with the residents as an opportunity for enrichment. Things like puzzles, walks, and simple conversation kept residents engaged and thriving “Every moment matters,” Eckberg said. “Even just a hug”.
It’s important for us to take what we learned during the pandemic and ensure we don’t lose sight of these important enrichment moments. Below we offer some “do’s and don’ts” when it comes to connecting with your memory care residents.
Do rethink your approach and see how enrichment grew during Covid-19. The creativity you were perhaps forced to embrace doesn’t need to go away along with the virus. Tap into what worked well and continue to think of new ideas
Don’t do what you’ve always done. Ensure you are adapting with the abilities and interests of your changing residents.
Do go slowly to give time to process. For many residents, too much too soon can be a challenge. Ensure you ease them into your enrichment activities for the best chance at success.
Don’t overstimulate residents. For many memory care residents things like complex tasks, loud sounds, or new faces can be intimidating. Find the appropriate level of engagement for your unique resident.
Do ensure buy-in and support from upper management. Request monthly meetings with supervisors and Executive Directors/Regional Directors to ensure memory care needs are being met and are keeping up with industry standard. Look at websites and calendars of other communities you admire. Even better? Give them a call to share ideas!
Don’t assume management will say “no”. Get creative with your ideas and show management the win-win: how it will both enrich the lives of the residents and provide a positive working environment for staff.
Do support family members as they entrust care of their loved ones to you. Having a loved one with a memory-related disease is extremely difficult on families. Listen and reaffirm their feelings. When they share a concern reply with, “I understand why you would be feeling that way. I want to ensure you that _” and share details on how you are supporting their family member.
Don’t assume the family is aware of what you are doing. Bring them into the conversations as much as possible. Ask questions about their loved one to customize care to their interests. “All a family wants is to ensure their loved one is comfortable, cared for and able to relax,” says Tran.
Do share recent, meaningful moments and favorite life enrichment moments with your sales team and families. Using a platform like LifeLoop allows you to share event info, photos, and other memories that bring families on the journey with you. Your sales team can reassure families that their loved one will be supported in the community by showing them enriching moments.
Don’t assume the families or sales team know ‘how it goes’ in your memory care community. Things are ever changing as new residents arrive and needs shift. Continue to keep everyone in the loop.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when implementing the above strategies is routine. Tran shared how having routine can be of great comfort to residents. When so much of their lives feels unfamiliar, having a routine such as cleaning up after mealtime or taking an afternoon walk with a staff member can offer some feelings of normalcy and purpose. For residents who aren’t as mobile, in-room visits to do puzzles or chat each day work great as well.
“When the residents know what’s expected, know what’s coming up, and know that they have routine it helps everyone. It helps the staff keep things running smoothly and also helps the residents have a sense of purpose,” Tran states.
A second key component is having a multifaceted approach. There are many dimensions to enrichment, and they may vary by resident. Finding out their needs on a social, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness level is what transforms mere interaction to true, meaningful enrichment. The families can provide great insights into the likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams of their loved one. Keep the conversation going! During move-in family members and residents alike are often overwhelmed and may forget information that could be valuable. Continue to ask about their loved one and provide a two-way channel of communication. For instance, the fact that Uncle Bob once grew prize-winning tomatoes might make for a great, enriching conversation with him around the dinner table and could easily be an overlooked fact during the stress of moving.
“In order to love them well and truly care for them, you need to know these things about them,” reiterates Tran.
Finally, ensure you are bringing your staff along – all of them! Too often the responsibility for enrichment is put solely onto the Enrichment or Events Coordinator or primary CARES staff when the truth is that every interaction counts!
“Everyone who interacts with the residents, from the maintenance staff to the meal preparers, can share a meaningful moment. Even a brief conversation can bring joy,” states Eckberg.
As communities who support our aging population, particularly those with memory care needs, it truly is an imperative for to keep meaningful enrichment as a must-have, not a nice-to-have. Many of us grew up hearing the golden rule “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” At LifeLoop, we offer up an alternative to this phrase. This new rule simply tweaks one word but in doing so offers a whole new perspective. Simply, the platinum rule states “Treat others the way THEY want to be treated”, which in this case is with dignity and purpose.
Human beings want to be loved. To be valued. To have purpose. Adding or continuing these enrichment strategies will ensure every resident has the opportunity to flourish and have meaning for each remaining moment of their life.