By Susan Saldibar

A while back, Steve Moran wrote an article referencing a TV ad he saw for A Place For Mom and the unsettling impression it gives that senior living does everything for you, leaving the resident free to do, well, basically nothing. At one point in the article, Steve writes, “I want to be offered something where I can continue to live with purpose and meaning . . ..” 

I agree with Steve, and I think that ads like that do a disservice to both consumers and senior living providers. As it happens, Steve’s article also got the attention of a client of mine, Anthem Memory Care. Based in Lake Oswego, Oregon, Anthem operates memory care communities in 12 locations across the country, including suburbs of Chicago, Colorado, Kansas, and California.  

Steve’s thoughts about wanting to live his life out with “purpose and meaning” really struck a chord with the folks at Anthem. I know that one of the things they pride themselves on is empowering their EDs and staff members to tap into the life experiences of their residents as well as their own to provide more meaningful “adult” activities, outings, and so on.  

Memory Care? Meaningful Care? Or Both? 

Since I regularly cover Anthem communities in blogs and social media, I have witnessed this esprit de corps in talking with some of the LEDs (life engagement directors) and CRDs (community relations directors). And, remember, this is memory care, which by its nature presents greater challenges in terms of carving out activities that can be fun and meaningful, while avoiding those that may seem childish and undignified. 

Case in point, I recently wrote a blog about a resident at Porter Place, in Tinley Park, Illinois, who wanted to take up basketball again. He had always loved it in his youth and missed the feel of the ball in his hands and the thrill of seeing that ball drop through the hoop. As ED, Collen Kamin, tells it, during a visit to a park he randomly picked up a ball someone had left and proceeded to shoot some hoops (I have the photos to prove it!).

The staff was so impressed that they arranged to have his old basketball hoop installed at the community. And, Colleen tells me that she keeps her Nikes in a drawer in her desk, always ready for when he wants to do a little one-on-one. You’ve got to love that kind of story. And it’s one that wouldn’t have happened had the staff not noticed and done a little digging to find out why he picked up that ball in the first place. 

And there are so many more stories of meaningful engagement going on everywhere. Here are a few from Anthem: 

    • Black and white art: This is so cool. After Morningside Place residents visited the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Wichita, Kansas, one of the residents asked the staff if they could create their own modernistic artwork. And, here’s the cool part. The resident asked if they could create a collection of art using only black and white. The resident said, “I would do it all in black and white. To show how we can all get along together” Not only did they do it, but they displayed all the artwork in their lobby (It’s really cool, I’ve seen the photos).


    • Mentoring activities with local school children: Now I know many communities bring in schoolchildren to mingle with the residents. But I loved to see the Facebook posts from Grace Point Place showing the residents doling out advice to school children who were getting ready for a new year.


    • Sailing: What’s better than feeling the summer breezes of Lake Michigan on your face? Invigorating and energizing for the residents at Harvester Place.


    • Original artwork auctioned to support the Alzheimer’s Association: Another purposeful activity that lets memory care residents give back in a meaningful way. Several of the Anthem communities do this regularly. I’ve seen some of the artwork and it’s impressive.


    • Horseback riding: Okay, I suck at this, but maybe when I’m 90-something I’ll try it again. At Porter Place, Bobbi Kelley, the CRD and a competitive rider herself, decided to take a group of residents to her stable to visit her show horses. What’s cool about this is that one previous non-verbal resident, stroking the horse (named Zack), was moved enough to say “Zack, you’re beautiful and need an apple!” What’s that worth to her children?


    • A day at the shooting range: Okay, I know, maybe you’re not a gun enthusiast, but there are plenty of older folks of another generation who are. Why should they not have a round or two at the local shooting range? Jenni Dill, LED for Chelsea Place, recalled the pride her grandfather had of his gun collection. Several of their residents are either veterans or had lived on ranches and been hunters when they were younger. So, Jenni took some of the residents to the local shooting range. I can only imagine the joy it must have brought to these individuals to continue doing something that once brought them such pleasure.

Back to Steve’s search for purpose and meaning in senior living. How about mentoring children? Creating art to make a social statement? Continuing your love of playing basketball and getting others to join you? Taking a turn around the stable on a champion horse? These are meaningful, adult activities, not dumbed down, silly stuff that residents would have cringed at 20 years ago. And these are memory care residents!

That said, I don’t know if Steve’s ideal community exists. At least, not yet. But it should be noted that there are operators out there, like Anthem, who encourage and empower staff members to intertwine their own life experiences with that of their residents. If that doesn’t create authentic moments of real joy, I don’t know what does.