September 23, 2020
by Susan Cohen Cwieka, CDAL
Recently, a resident moved into our memory care community who, sadly, didn’t have any family members helping them. Although this is not uncommon in senior living, we are generally accustomed to our residents’ loved ones helping them get settled—placing belongings just so and providing information to help us get to know them.
I could have hired someone to unpack and set up her apartment, but my clinical liaison and I immediately embraced this opportunity to connect with her. Through unpacking her most cherished possessions, we reminisced, shared stories, and relished in seeing her face light up over objects that clearly had deep meaning.
Having the chance to relate on such a personal level provided invaluable insight—insight that we as a community are now using to help keep her connected to the people, passions, and things that matter most in her life.
As part of a Benchmark community whose purpose is to transform lives through human connection, we get to know our residents’ likes, dislikes, dreams, goals, and desires by creating rich profiles. Still, nothing can replace powerful moments like the ones I experienced that day.
During times like these, I’m reminded that improving the quality of life for our residents and associates rarely is about finance and investments—it’s about creating and sharing in these special moments.
As senior living leaders, I believe, we have a responsibility to facilitate opportunities like these that can significantly impact the overall quality and support we provide at our communities.
In my over 30 years in senior care and as a board-certified dementia educator, I have adopted several strategies that can go a long way, while sacrificing little or nothing from a budget.
Set aside at least an hour each day to connect with residents.
Managing a community comes with many responsibilities, and it can be easy to become consumed by administrative work or planning. When I spend time with our residents, I learn so much. These learnings have significantly helped to shape each of the communities that I’ve been fortunate to lead. My favorite time of the day is the hour or more I spend one-on-one connecting with those we care for.
Simple and accessible forms of communication go a long way.
Every two weeks, I hold a standing Zoom call together with all of my residents’ family members. Whoever would like to join can, and it’s an opportunity to share community happenings and get to know one another. Most importantly, families also gain information that they can use to connect with their loved ones during their next phone call or visit, such as news of new associates, residents, and programs.
Sometimes we have an agenda and a lot of information to share, and sometimes we don’t. Families can always count on this touchpoint and the opportunity to ask questions, share stories, and gain feedback from the group.
Embrace creative ways to recognize your associates.
Taking care of our associates is an important part of my focus, as it’s my firm belief that quality care can come only from those who are well taken care of. Caring for those with memory impairment, in particular, can be especially challenging. We must continue to celebrate the critical role associates play in our family and recognize their dedication.
Our Cultural Ambassador supports associates by creating fun events like dress-down and international days devoted to celebrating our associates’ diverse cultures. We also offer awards programs—monthly and annual Service Champion awards, Spot awards that recognize outstanding on-the-job moments and include a small monetary reward, and Gratitude Grams that formally show appreciation and include a monthly prize drawing.
Remaining creative and staying focused on who and what matters most is how we can get through today’s challenges and tomorrow.