Making the Move: Raising the bar in seniors’ residences

Photo: Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz, Unsplash
by Matt Del Vecchio

The senior living industry is experiencing one of the toughest periods in its history. Prior to the pandemic, I received many comments from people expressing concerns about moving into a senior residence. The pandemic has amplified these concerns.

This is an opportunity for owners, operators, and the government to collectively raise the bar and implement best practices that will appeal to future residents, and respond to their concerns.

Much has been written about the state of long-term care homes or CHSLDs as they are known in Quebec. The focus of this article will be about our non-CHSLD residences. These senior residences are referred to as Résidences pour Aînés or RPAs.

Despite the public’s perception, most residents living in an RPA enjoy their senior living accommodation. There are far more people living in a senior residence in Quebec on a per capita basis than anywhere else in the country. However, a lot more could be done to improve the client experience especially in smaller and medium-sized residences.

The little things that count

I have been in residences that do an excellent job of personalizing their activities to cater to their clientele. One has a couple of volunteers that come in every Tuesday to play their guitars and have a sing-along. They have been doing this every week for over 10 years! Another residence customizes their outings based on residents’ requests. They sometimes go to a local waterfront area to get some fresh air and see the sights. Other times they go to a specialty café that reminds them of their younger years. I have also received positive feedback from residents when they are able to watch a specialty TV channel from the country where they were raised.

Some of these activities have been curtailed until the pandemic threat ends. But residence staff can always take the place of the musicians who come in from the outside by singing with their residents — even in their rooms. Bigger residences have gardens and grounds. It’s harder for the smaller residences to take their residents out. Hopefully families will soon be able to do just that, as they did before, all the while social distancing.

Food makes all the difference

One of my favourite residences adapts their menu a few times a month to appeal to a specific group of clients who were raised in the Caribbean islands. It makes their day knowing they will be treated to their favourite Jamaican and Trinidadian dishes.

Many times, it can be as simple as offering some fresh fruit such as a juicy orange or seedless watermelon instead of the traditional canned fruit swimming in syrup. Meals can be challenging for cooks with so many diversified tastes and dietary restrictions. However, food is always ranked as one of the most important factors for people living in a residence. Change it up a bit. Cook a surprise meal. Raise the quality of food. Let residents go back to their past.

Take advantage of technology

There are relatively inexpensive ways to enhance the health and wellbeing of residents using technology. I have been in far too many seniors’ homes where it is difficult to see and hear the TV. Why not invest in high definition TV for a better viewing experience? I have also seen stacks of DVDs and VHS tapes collecting dust. Streaming apps such as Netflix, Crave, Amazon Prime in common areas would be a welcome and popular addition.

The pandemic has brought upon a surge in video calls using Zoom, FaceTime, and other video apps. This should become a permanent event especially for out-of-town children and close relatives. It doesn’t have to be often, but I have seen firsthand the joy it brings to people particularly for those that are lonely and isolated.

There is general apprehension about moving into a residence. Some of it is justified while some of it is not. Perceptions must change. Unfortunately, we do not hear enough of the good stories. There are many. However, we also need to push operators to raise the bar. Now is the time to get out of their comfort zones, set themselves apart, and make the senior living experience better than it has ever been.

Matt Del Vecchio is the owner of Lianas Services Senior Transition Support and host of “Life Unrehearsed” on CJAD800 Sundays at 4pm.

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