Our industry must push the boundaries of technology

Quality of life, especially in memory care, could be greatly improved

By Joe Jasmon

The one-size-fits-all approach does not work for those afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia. 

There is a trend in the seniors housing market to combine assisted living and memory care by simply dedicating rooms or adding a wall or two to separate the communities. This does not meet the standards of our current population, nor is it a productive environment for residents.

Personalizing memory care

In order to meet the inherent needs of those residents afflicted with dementia, one has to begin with understanding the person and focusing on them, who they are, who they were, and what their likes and dislikes are. Once you have a full appreciation of the individual, you can design a personalized program around individual needs.

Currently, communities are often designed or remodeled with large spaces to accommodate groups, thereby maximizing caregivers and resources. This herding mentality generally does not benefit those with Alzheimer’s or dementia. It can create fear, confusion or even boredom.

The solution is personalized care, which is woefully missing in the industry. Communities and team members must take the time to get to know residents individually, to understand the nuances of the disease and how they impact the individual resident.

Technology, design make it possible

Future building design may still have large rooms for celebrations, parties and church services. However, it should also include individual or small-group spaces that allow the resident to enjoy things specific to their interests. 

One such improvement has been designed into our newest prototype: the listening station. This will allow residents to sit in a very comfortable and relaxing environment and enjoy music. They can peacefully tap their feet or sing along at the top of their lungs. 

Music creates joy and memories, but not everyone likes the same songs. An individualized approach is needed. 

Combine the listening station concept with a mobile application or technology solution and you have created a game or activity that the resident can enjoy — one that is personalized around them. 

You can even take it one step further and bring in the resident’s family, friends and grandchildren and allow them to play with the resident remotely. Now you have a personalized solution that can truly enhance the life of the resident.

After all, as a care team, it is our responsibility to provide opportunities and activities that are meaningful and beneficial to each resident. Through personalization, meaningful design and technology, you have created something more than yet another game of balloon volleyball or bingo.

The design, programmatic and technological elements of the program must be well thought-out and not created in a vacuum. The concepts must be tested through the use of focus groups and pilot programs. This process will allow you to fine tune and further personalize the programs to your individual residents’ needs.

Improving quality of life, care

Technology and design change are not just for the activities and life engagement portions of the community. They are also needed in the day-to-day care, clinical care and healthcare of the residents. 

I anticipate new communities will have functional physician exam rooms and added spa features, combined with treatment rooms and some ancillary services. The implementation of full electronic health records and the utilization of technology in the home will also be steps the seniors housing industry takes in the very near future.

On the design front, we already have themed and color-coded hallways. The next steps will be personalizing a community to the individual resident’s needs. 

I foresee changes in room size and room design, as well as implementation of technology to track a resident’s location and vital signs. This information would feed into the electronic health record, and also alert a caregiver immediately if there were a significant change in one of the resident’s vitals. In the unfortunate event that a resident went missing, the technology could be used to locate the resident, whether inside the community or outdoors.

These are simple solutions, but as an industry we need to embrace technology and challenge our technology partners to come up with more meaningful solutions. For example, in traditional healthcare settings, we are utilizing robotic technology to help those who cannot walk to walk. Bionic arms, hands and legs are being tested. We now have hip, knee and shoulder replacement surgery.

 Finding solutions is our job

We all know that one of the many side effects of the disease is a tunnel- or blurred-vision effect that is replicated for us to experience in virtual dementia tours and experiences. 

Wouldn’t it be great if we could utilize technology to reverse this side effect? Could we design a contact lens or a cataract-like procedure to give those affected clear sight and vision?

That’s obviously a hypothetical idea. So what can be done right now for our senior population facing the challenges of Alzheimer’s and dementia?

Utilizing even off-the-shelf technology can enhance a resident’s and family’s experience immediately. 

Start by using your smartphone to text updates and pictures to capture moments of joy that can be sent to family members. Utilize the video feature to send videos back and forth to loved ones. It is truly that simple.

We should not forget what this generation has done for us. They fought the wars, manned the factories and built this great country. It’s time we gave them something in return. 

Technology can provide this solution. Our residents have so much more to give to society. I challenge all of us to help them do it.

Joe Jasmon is the chief operating officer (COO) of The LaSalle Group Inc. He oversees overall operations of the company’s four divisions, including 41 Autumn Leaves memory care communities in seven states.

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