By Sara Kyle

For anyone in the world of resident engagement, these are the most interesting times we have faced. Day after day we spend our efforts researching how to bring people together and form relationships; stressing the importance of social connectedness and the aspect of “community.”

A Huge Paradigm Shift

While nothing is impossible, the current situation has us all in a paradigm shift. There are big wins and positive messages being broadcast about how protocols and isolation are keeping people well and safe. But at the end of the day, I question the effect that isolation will have on residents and their health.

Programming Shift

In the past 2 to 3 years there has been a dramatic shift in programming for residents. Research tells us that loneliness is a critical and chronic problem for seniors. While there is not a perfect daily prescription of wellness activities to yield the best “quality of life score”, we now know being fully balanced is less important than it was 5 years ago. Today we know the social component of feeling connected with others and connected to a purpose in later life is the elixir to happiness and longevity.

In no way am I discounting the undeniable need for physical exercise or other dimensions of wellness, but most often we find the social dimension significantly impacts motivation to “do.” The social element is the catalyst that sparks the drive in other areas.

What I find most refreshing is that our traditional model of activities, “do for” has been flipped upside down.

Having been forced to step away from that model, we are seeing a panoply of resident talents and skills that were always there but were ignored:

 Here are the 3 most significant areas:

  1. Daily News – At the beginning of March we created a daily newsletter at the corporate level using our professional knowledge around staying positive, which included quotes and sayings, exercise, some jokes or humor, and tech tutorials for accessing apps and web-based content.

    Three weeks later we are no longer writing our own content. We made the template, but residents are submitting jokes, writing short stories, making up their own activities, and, by gosh, they have an overwhelming desire to share them with others.

    What I learned is that our first attempt at messaging looks quite different from resident submissions: Their jokes are better than what we find online. Their stories are novel and written in a manner that we cannot begin to touch. Their words flow onto a page so differently and I find myself reading them in awe of sentence structure, precise grammar, and an element of characterization that sets the foundation.
  2. Entertainment & Vendors – In the traditional model, we relied on outside entertainment often at an unattractive price. Since losing this option (except for a few lawn performers), we discovered we have a whole new crop of entertainment in our residents and staff.

    Residents are opening their doors and serenading the hallways using voice and instruments. They are making announcements to their peers over the intercom sharing words of encouragement. Right under our nose, we have comedians, musicians, poets, literary geniuses, movie producers, critics, editors, professional dancers, teachers, professors, artists, and the list is limitless.

    With idle time and less involvement of the continual curation of expected cookie-cutter senior living activities, we see the potential of the residents we have not had to rely on.
  3. Resilience and Resolve – Without doubt, those who support any level of care or service in senior living are the heroes and deserve acknowledgment. However, if you ask any worker in senior living or any leadership team member, I guarantee it is the thank you’s, cards of appreciation, distance hugs, blown kisses, or kind words from a resident or family member that are filling their tanks.

    As Chip Conley says, an elder is someone who has experienced life in so many circumstances that they have an unbelievable amount of wisdom from a multitude of situations. Many residents have shown staff the meaning of a modern elder, offering advice, hope, a positive outlook, assurance, and confirmation that we will get through this.

    I always knew the residents we serve have weathered storms beyond our imagination, but I never knew how much I would rely on their words to wake me up each morning with energy to fight through the unknowns.

We have had a crash course in the world of engagement and, frankly, there is no book or map to be found that will walk us to the other side. We are exploring uncharted territories. We have learned we cannot just hand people technology or hardware and expect an instant connection.

This period in time will for sure increase the adoption of tech as well as families asking for information and continual communication, but technology is not the answer. It helps, but there is the other side of high touch we must find a way to create while maintaining social distancing.

What is the touch that will continue to affect the soul when a family is not involved and that resident has relied on the daily conversation with a housekeeper to feel loved? What is the touch we find to replace a 2-year daily lunch date with your best friend Mary who you have not seen in three weeks because she lives on a different floor?

To all of us searching for answers: Keep searching, but in the quest, try taking a step back to see goldmines of knowledge, intelligence, and determination that are directly in front of us residing in the bodies of residents and staff.