By David Besnette for Assisted Living Directory
I have had the great fortune, and great pleasure (seriously) of having been invited to visit many different assisted living facilities, and residences over the past 10 years. Many of the invitations have come as a request for me to do a video tour for the facility, or to do an interview of the owner or administrators, or even the residents.
What I’ve come to realize is that there can be a pretty clear line drawn in the sand, separating those facilities that have the spark – or life force, or chi, or whatever you want to call it – and those facilities are more aligned with stale milk and mothballs.
I can most often feel it as soon as I drive up for the first time, and if the line in the sand still eludes at that point, it will most certainly make it’s presence known as you walk through the front door. The energy will catalyze in one of two ways. I’ll either feel invigorated, energized and excited for the tour, or visit, or I will feel like I desperately need to escape and take a nap.
I’m an observant fellow, and this stark contrast has always bothered, and also intrigued me. What makes an assisted living facility “live” and what makes one (or what is lacking) better suited for a funeral parlor? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not immediately obviously to many (often struggling) facilities, and their owners.
I do have a growing list of things that any assisted living facility can do to turn away from the dark side. Facility owners that ‘get it’ are doing these things. Those who aren’t are often the ones with the most empty beds, all the while scratching their heads as to why.
Giving Life To Assisted Living
- 1) Do some weeding, please. To me, nothing says “I don’t care” more than a weedy yard, and sidewalk cracks full of brownish-yellow craziness taking over. Weeds are almost always a warning shot of what you’ll find inside. If the owner’s don’t care about the very first impression, you can bet that the kitchens are dirty, the medicine cabinets are disorganized, and the staff are not held to acceptable standards of hygiene and presentation.
- 2) Go nuts with flowers, inside and out. Flowers are symbolic of life, and aside from the visual impact, they do a lot to clean and freshen the air in a facility, and can also provide ways for the residents to become involved and active within the facility.
- Planting a food or flower garden can provide a goal and a sense of ownership with residents who miss their Green Thumbs from a previous life and residence.
- Flowers in the entryway , on the dining room table, in the residents rooms, and even in the bathrooms can be both an obvious, and subtle way to make a positive and lasting first impression, and to also boost the mood and energy for the residents on a daily basis.
- 3) Open the windows! Light is well known to have a positive impact on mood and attitude, and a lack thereof can enhance feelings of depression and loneliness.
- I’ve noticed that if I am producing a video tour, and I am having to use a lot of flash and extra lighting – those are the facilities that are the ‘heaviest’ and least inviting to me. Often times the residents in dark (and un-flowered) facilities show it in their body language – slumped over, dissheveled, and un-engaged.
- 4) Music can warm the heart. I visited a facility in 2011 where the owner was able to pipe in a variety of different music stations through the TV into the main living room area. He was playing old-timey music that resonated with the age and demographic of his current residents, and the mood in the room, and home was uplifting and happy. Of course, I know that music on all day long may not work for some residents, and it may need to happen on a democratic basis, but for the most part, it’s been a wonderful and well-received part of daily life in the facilities that I have toured.
- It doesn’t even need to be loud. Just enough to notice can be sufficient!
- 5) Bake cookies! This, I know, is an old realtor’s trick. If you have a showing, bake some cookies 30 minutes before. It works, though, as our sense of smell is one of our oldest senses, tied directly to the limbic system, which oversees emotion. I love facilities that have multiple kitchens, or centrally located kitchens where the owners or staff seem to always have cookies, brownies, or pastries in the works.
- Again, this is another great way to involve the residents, having them stir or mix the dough, butter the pans, or any other part of the process that they can safely do in accordance with their abilities!
- 6) Encourage family members to visit and even join the residents for mealtime! The more the merrier! I visited (to do a video tour) a facility last year (2014) who offered free lunch to family members any time they wanted to come by and spend time. The conversation was lively, the residents were engaged, and there was “life” at the table.
- Nothing is more depressing than visiting a facility at mealtime to see only one resident at the table, and the disengaged staff and owners checking email in another room.
- 7) Get a house pet. With the caveat of what the State allows (every state is regulated differently), allergy considerations, and safety, many assisted living residences have successfully adopted a house pet, or pets. I was just reading an account of a facility that brought in dozens of dogs and cats, and gave every resident that wanted one a bird. It was a major change, and undertaking, but the effects were almost all positive. Residents had something to do every day – a purpose if you want to call it that, and the playfulness of the animals and the companionship they brought brought benefits in very tangible ways. Medications were even reduced in many residents, and illnesses and other health-related issued declined.
- A small residential home may not be able to handle dozens of animals, but a gentle, well trained house dog can be a constant source of smiles, love, and life-force in any care home.
These are some of my suggestions on a list that seems to be growing – things that you, the facility owner can do to drastically change the mood, health, and vitality of your home. I didn’t include the obvious, yet more involved items that should be inherent to the facility anyways – activities, sanitation and cleanliness, and safety. Those should be a given.
You’ll probably not fail a State inspection for not doing these things I’ve mentioned, but they will give you with a better chance to be included every year on the State’s inspections roster, if you make them a standard part of your facility’s daily operations!
It’s the small stuff….