So what does Abraham Moslow’s “Hierachy of Needs” have to do with senior housing?

By Meg LaPorte

It’s not likely Abraham Maslow ever anticipated that his famous Hierarchy of Needs model would have the staying power that it does. But, then again, he was an optimist. In his pursuit of discovering what makes people happy, Maslow created the pyramid of needs based on his hypothesis that the urge for self-actualization is deeply entrenched in the human psyche but is not fully realized until more basic needs are met.

Resident Engagement is Critical

What does this have to do with senior housing? Well, a lot, actually, according to a recent white paper from Holleran, a research and consulting firm that focuses on the senior housing space. Titled “Resident Engagement: A Priority for Tomorrow’s Life Plan Community,” the authors not only reference Maslow’s model in substantial detail, but also outline very succinctly what they call the Four Domains of Engagement:  

  1. Voice – Engagement with the Campus

  2. Connection – Engagement with Others

  3. Well-being – Engagement with Health and Wellness

  4. Fulfillment – Engagement with Life Goals

The report’s authors cite the domains as the building blocks of resident engagement and posit that the bottom two rungs of the hierarchy are akin to meeting satisfaction needs—good dining options, access to care, clean facilities.


Enter Smile™, CarexTech’s solution for boosting resident and family engagement (Carextech is a Senior Housing Forum partner). Smile™ empowers Life Enrichment, Activity Directors, and Recreation Therapists to manage and track resident involvement in activities—which positions them to achieve self-actualization—that sweet spot where, according to Maslow, humans are closer to true happiness.

CarexTech Co-Founder and Notre Dame Professor Sarv Devaraj, PhD, and his team created the tool based on their research so that senior living operators and caregivers can take residents beyond the “bottom two rungs” to ensure they are engaged with recreational activities in a more meaningful way—one that addresses the higher level needs of social connection and personal fulfillment.

The web-based, integrated communications platform brings activities, documentation, and analytics together in one solution so residents and staff have more time with each other, says Devaraj.

Resident Happiness

What’s more, another bonus of the Smile™ solution is family engagement—another key ingredient to resident happiness and quality care. “What we’ve been able to do,” says Devaraj, “is accomplish engagement at a high level and also make caregivers proud of what they’re doing.” Many communities have registered a 100 percent family involvement since implementing Smile™, he adds.

The Activity Tracker feature, which is built into the Smile™ platform, lets users track residents’ participation with a just a click of the mouse. “This is a welcome change from hours spent manually tracking participants and compiling the information by hand or on spreadsheets,” Devaraj explains.

The solution’s effectiveness has also garnered testimony from family members:
“I love the Smile™ program because it provides a great way for us all to keep up with our loved ones upcoming activities and outings through the convenience of a web-based program,” said Pam, sister of a resident at a Commonwealth Senior Living community. “The program notifies us of the upcoming events and provides updates and pictures of the activities or outings that they participated in. This is especially nice, since we cannot always be there with them and they do not always remember their activities on a daily basis. Thank you all for everything you do!” 

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