We have the tools within our grasp!

By Susan Saldibar

Sodexo, a Senior Housing Forum partner, has been conducting some ground-breaking research into quality of life issues, working closely with Planetree, a not-for-profit research organization, to create an experience-centered approach to senior living that will hopefully transform how care is being delivered. In October, Thomas Jelley, Sodexo’s Director of the Institute for Quality of Life, and Darien Kadens, Director of Research and Science for Healthcare and Seniors, presented some of Sodexo’s recent findings at the Planetree International Conference on Patient-Centered Care in Boston.  

The presentation, “Designing Loneliness Out of the Patient Experience”, explains how issues that feed loneliness impact quality of life and how they can be effectively mitigated through a combination of research and re-designing the resident experience. Thomas was kind enough to share his presentation with me and answered questions such as “How do you even begin to impact something like loneliness?”

It begins, according to Thomas, by gaining an understanding as to where loneliness comes from and how it impacts quality of life factors. And several determinants feed loneliness which, in turn, impact Quality of Life. The diagram below shows the relationships.

As is evident on the chart, the impact on quality of life can be considerable, especially when a senior is entering a retirement community for the first time.

The good news, however, is that senior living communities are beginning to make use of the research to re-engineer the resident experience before they even walk through their doors. And tools, such as Sodexo’s Personix® platform are leading the way to a new level of data intelligence, which involves a carefully calibrated combination of data, technology and inter-personal retraining.

Data That Drives Deeper Insight

First, let’s talk about the data. “By collecting data about your existing residents as well as potential future residents within the broader community, you can learn a lot more than you think about the needs and desires of prospective residents,” says Thomas.

Matching that information with the determinants known to trigger loneliness creates a sort of roadmap to help navigate away from potential loneliness triggers and mitigate their effect. Attributes to consider might include:

  • Who is the new resident? A former educator? A wife and mother?

  • What determinants are unique to a new resident?

  • What has engaged them in earlier experiences?

  • What positive thoughts, ideas and physical entities can you import from their prior experiences into their new community life?

“To give you a very broad-brush example, one person may respond positively to knowing that a community has a bridge tournament every month. Another might feel more at home knowing that there is a Starbuck’s close by, which they can visit whenever they wish,” says Thomas. “The point is, you can design their experience away from loneliness and towards inclusion, enrichment and engagement,” he added.

Technology Connects Carers and Residents in New Ways

And, technology helps as well. Sodexo provides apps to help foster consistent interaction between the residents and others within the community. Here are a few:

  • A community caring notice-board, which shares positive experiences among residents and between residents and carers.

  • Carer-locator apps, which allow carers to create their own communities and communicate with one another for support and ongoing training.

  • Crowd-sourcing help from able seniors, which allows them to be available to aid others who may need someone to talk to or to spend time with.

But it doesn’t end there, according to Thomas. “Without re-training the people within the communities to maximize each personal interaction, all the data and technology in the world won’t make a difference.”

What Do We Mean By Re-training?

Everyone who is in a position to impact the resident must be engaged in new ways; from the front office people, to food service providers and grounds keepers. This is where a new level of training and effort by personnel comes into play.

“It may be as simple as a maintenance person giving a word of greeting as he passes by a resident,” says Thomas. “Again, this is particularly important for new residents who are especially vulnerable,” he adds.

Can Senior Living Communities Really Stamp Out Loneliness?

According to Thomas, we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. These kinds of integrated programs are raising the bar on how senior living communities approach the resident experience. Who thought you could, in effect, short circuit something like loneliness? There’s a lot more to the process, and you can read more about Sodexo’s research here.  

“Quality of life is something that was never measured effectively in the past,” says Thomas. “Frankly, we never had the tools before,” He adds. “But we do now. And senior care providers who can design a resident experience that drives them towards a more positively connected experience from the moment they come through the doors, will reap huge benefits across the board.”