By Steve Moran
I’ve been having a bunch of conversations over the last couple weeks about two tightly coupled, but very different questions:
- What should the opening or more accurately reopening of communities look like?
- What kinds of relationships are most important to residents?
Conventional wisdom is that the highest priority for reopening should be to make it possible for residents and families to interact. It makes sense because senior living communities are getting pressure from families to have face-to-face interactions with their older loved ones.
I’m not convinced that from the resident’s perspective that is really their highest priority.
This is going to sound bad . . .
but I am pretty confident this is right. I suspect that deep in the heart of most residents, they are a lot more ready to connect with their friends in the senior living community, the people they hung out with each and every day, than their family members. In truth, residents and their children have not lived together for decades and have very little in common except history.
If you were to give most of your resident family members this question:
You are getting ready to go on vacation for a week (I would have used “go on a cruise” just a few weeks ago) and you get to pick either going with a good friend or with your parent, who would you rather go with?
The truth is, most people would rather go with their friends rather than parents. And it seems likely that your residents would answer the same way about going with their kids.
We also know that very often, when family members come to visit a resident they struggle with what to talk about. There are only so many times you can talk about their health, what they did or are doing, and kids and grandkids, and only so many times old family stories can be told.
What We Sell
Ultimately what we sell are the benefits of socialization. While we don’t always do the very best job of providing this, it is still a big part of what we sell. If you think about it, an older person could rent, for probably an equivalent amount of money, a senior apartment and then prepare a few meals of their on their own, and use various delivery services plus a little home care and family support to experience a life equivalent to what they have today with social isolation. What we sell is a complete package anchored in socialization.
Ultimately we need to be talking to families and residents about what they really need and want. We need to be giving them back the things that are most important.
Interesting perspective, Steve. We have initiated family visits (with elaborate Covid protocols in place) and they are very popular. So popular, that we aren’t doing Zoom calls any more. A challenge is enforcing the natural impulse to hug with the family visits – the minute I stepped out of the room, I saw one daughter jump up immediately to embrace her mother. It’s hard being a “hall monitor” but vigilance is worth the happiness we see from our residents.
Concurrently, we have begun daily exercise in person with the trainer on Zoom and afternoon long-life learning classes. It goes without saying that each of these processes have to be managed by at least 2 staff to remind people about masks etc.
The frightening increase in physical frailty, cognitive decline, and depression shows that lengthy “sheltering in place” is simply not good for people of advanced age. Some just give up and pass away. It is very important that we start engaging again, with caution.