August 23, 2018 – With almost two years of experience in senior living, I feel like a seasoned veteran. However, the reality is I still have a long way to go and a whole lot to learn. In my two years, I’ve had lots of wisdom shared with me from people who are much smarter than I am. I also typically ask way too many questions of these people but am thankful they are kind enough to answer.
I compiled the 10 rules below through these conversations, the communities I’ve visited, and the mistakes I’ve made over the last two years.
1. Don’t say bad words.
The “F” word makes some people cringe. The “P” word turns others away faster than you can count backwards to 3. No, I’m not talking about the words that first popped in your head when you read that sentence. I’m referring to using “Facility” and “Patient” when talking about resident living in a community. Patients don’t live at home; patients visit the doctor’s office.
Sometimes the phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is so engrained in the minds of people that it causes fear for someone to try something new. In the last five years, technology has revolutionized senior living. For example, iN2L’s touchscreen technology engaging someone with late stage dementia, MyndVR’s virtual reality taking a resident to places they have always dreamed of going, or Eversound headphones giving residents new life by simply being able to hear again are all “new things” to completely change an elderly person’s life and a community. These technologies along with so many others seemed crazy in senior living five years ago, but now they have become necessities.
3. 100% occupancy means you’re the Alabama football of senior living.
Anyone who follows college football knows The University of Alabama is the best for one reason… they can recruit. They sign the best players and have a full class year after year. They do this because the 45-60 year-old mother of the recruit believe the Alabama coaches will take the best care of her son. She knows the coach is developing a winning culture, promoting the team as being ahead of everyone else, and maintaining facilities with the amenities that will help her son perform better. Their attention to detail creates a level of trust that ends with her son committing to play at Alabama.
The correlation with senior living is nearly an exact match. Who would have ever thought the target market for a college football coach is the same target for a senior living operator?
The “Alabamas” of senior living are the communities at or near 100% occupancy, which means they recruit new residents at the highest level. These communities sell the 45-60 year-old son or daughter that their loved one will be part of a winning culture. These communities are proactive rather than reactive to the rest of the market to show they are one step ahead of the community around the corner. Lastly, these communities show they will fill every need for the family’s loved one to have a better quality of life.
4. Women rule!
A vast majority of residents living in communities are women. Be ready to be called “sweetheart” if you plan on visiting one! Also, if you complement jewelry, you automatically become friends.
5. Treat people right.
This is really a rule for life, but especially in senior living. The folks taking care of the residents in senior living have a lot on their plate. In an instant, a staff member can go from participating in a fun activity with the residents during the holidays to rushing to help a resident with emergency health complications.
The staff at these communities have been entrusted to take care of people’s mothers, fathers, grandmas, and grandpas, so be flexible, appreciative, and always tell them, “Thank you for doing what you do.”
6. Learn to pray.
I understand in 2018 this rule may be a bit controversial, but if you believe in the power of prayer, it can be life changing. It does not mean the dementia will disappear, that health will be restored, or that you’ll be at 100% occupancy. However, it does mean that you are asking a higher power for help to improve someone’s quality of life. This resonates with others and transforms your mindset.
While Happy Hour may start at 4:00, the line for Happy Hour will start to form at 3:00. If you’re interested in dancing, singing, and having a great time, Happy Hour at your local senior living community is the place for you!
8. Listen to the Story… even if you’ve already heard it.
How many times have you interrupted your mom or dad when they started telling a story and you said, “Dad, you already told me that story.” With aging, this can happen. With dementia, it is going to happen. When a resident has dementia, let them tell the story even if it is multiple times a day. You should not only listen to the story over and over again, but also ask questions about it. Being nostalgic can be fun and meaningful for everyone. People with dementia sometimes just forget which stories they’ve told you. If you want to take it a step further, find content that takes the resident back to those stories they love to tell. For example, use Google Earth’s street view to look at the house they grew up in. That can help them remember even more details from the story.
9. Don’t pull the strings in the bathrooms.
If you are visiting a community and need to use the restroom, you’ll see different buttons or strings that are very tempting to pull. Don’t do it… unless you want someone peeping in to check on you while you are taking care of your business.
10. Everyone has a soul.
No matter how far down the dementia path someone is, their soul is still there. Take care of that soul. Feed it. Nurture it. Find whatever is meaningful to the person’s soul and connect them with it… even when they can’t remember your name anymore. Have patience and most importantly, remember that the soul is what lives on forever.
Like I mentioned in the beginning, I am only two years into this journey, so I am sure I left out a few important rules. To help us all, share a “rule” you think I missed in the comments below!