When a person lives with memory loss, some people assume it’s just the memory that goes away. But the ability to speak, write, socialize and use fine motor skills can also fade. That’s where art therapy comes in — a craft engaging an individual’s self-expression, imagination and emotions while strengthening cognitive, motor and verbal skills.
With our Memory Murals program, a trained instructor works with memory loss residents to paint something significant in a common area of the community. The residents might choose a noteworthy landmark from the surrounding region, for example, and a professional artist will trace a template of the image onto an interior or exterior wall. Then, the fun begins: residents fill in the templates and together create a colorful and permanent mural. Staff plays music while the residents paint and socialize with one another in a fun and relaxing environment.
Art can reduce anxiety and depression, improve personal communication and relationships, and enhance quality of life for all people, regardless of memory challenges. And while art therapy will not cure or reverse memory loss, it can help promote spiritual, emotional, physical and mental health and well-being. Memory Murals is a great way for residents, even if they have never painted before, to come together with peers, family and staff to bond over something new and exciting. Even if the residents don’t remember that they painted the mural, they’ll never forget how the art makes them feel when they see it.
In the spring of this year, Solvere Living, the sister company of Solutions Advisors appointed Joseph Geiser as Director of Dining Services and he brings an extensive background in senior living industry food service management, as well as corporate and non-profit organizations. Based in our Princeton, NJ office, he is a Certified Dietary Manager and Certified Food Protection Professional and oversees all aspects of culinary services for Solvere-managed communities across the country. He supervises menu development, nutritional guidelines, hiring and training food service directors, establishing budgets and ensuring that the dining experience across all communities delivers a high standard of customer service.
The idea of bringing the food service function in-house is a concept that is frequently considered across senior housing for several reasons, some of them more obvious than others, so we wanted to do a Q & A with Joe to get his expert opinion and share his professional insights on the topic:
Q: Why is it important for a community to consider bringing the food service function in-house?
A: Well there are many reasons, and many of them as you can imagine are financially-based. On the one hand, outsourcing to a third party initially seems like it would make a lot of sense to not have the community manage the additional expense and overhead. Your vendor handles all of that for you, but with that comes some potential downsides: The fact of the matter is, the fees are substantial, so eliminating those, and the markups on food, services and special event fees is a huge benefit to the bottom line of the community. Also, the community gains control of the budget once this function is brought in-house. We never have to question whether the vendor has our best interests at heart as we’ve now taken over that role, and the final decisions are ours.
Then there is the issue of “chain of command” so to speak. Once food service is brought in-house the staff now works for the community and not the vendor. The General Manager is ultimately in charge and there is an increased level of accountability of both staff and management that improves in this scenario. We’ve found that there is a sense of team and loyalty with the in-house staff working harder to exceed resident expectations.
Q: What changes would a Director of Dining Services make to improve the product and service?
A: I think first and foremost is to enhance and improve operational standards. That includes the variety and quality of the food that we offer. Training. Making sure that the entire team is fully and adequately trained and ensuring that learning and training opportunities are ongoing. I mentioned budgetary impact earlier, so putting an expense management system in place is a very important step. Department of Health Compliance is very important as well, so we want to make sure that everything we’re doing is documented and meets government, state and local, health standards.
And this final one isn’t about regulations or compliance but about the experience. We’re instituting a dress code for our Service Director and chefs. They always will be wearing a chef’s coat and hat, complete with an accent scarf so that the entire experience of dining with us is elevated. When a member of our culinary team is out on the floor serving or visiting with residents, we want it to be a high-end experience and we want the residents to know who to approach when they have questions or comments.
Q: Could you please comment on what things you think are important in the resident’s dining experience?
A: Sure, there are 4 key ones that I can think of:
Nutrition: I can’t emphasize enough how crucial a resident’s diet is for them to maintain a healthy and vibrant life in our community. We focus a lot of our attention on the nutritional dimension.
Environment: And by that we mean ambiance and feel. A professional appearance and attitude from the staff is non-negotiable. It must be the standard. And our dining room has to be a showpiece at all times. There is a disproportionate amount of a resident’s time spent in our dining areas, so the experience has to be exemplary – every time.
Choice: Menu variety has to flex based on frequent resident feedback
Social: There are no two ways about it. The dining areas are social gathering places. Residents interact with each other (and the staff) long before and long after meal time, so we must be in tune to the important social element this represents in their daily lives.
In neighborhoods created specifically for individuals with memory impairments, technology can play an active role in both the engagement of residents and communication with family members.
But it’s important that technology is used properly – particularly when it comes to resident care.
Technology in a memory care setting should always support a culture of engagement and participation rather than simply providing entertainment, says Lorie Dancy, Vice President of Clinical Services at Solvere Living.
“If technology takes a resident away from participating and being actively engaged,” she says, “that’s when we might shy away from using a device.”
Memory care communities managed by Solvere Living integrate a unique wellness philosophy, called Valeo™, into all aspects of care and service. The philosophy’s programming is adapted to the individual and is focused on increasing awareness, creating purposeful moments, stimulating pleasant long-term memories and providing moments of joy.
Technology for Engagement
Technology doesn’t need to be complex or expensive. Digital music players like iPods allow people to listen to tunes they love, and some free or low-cost tablet or phone apps provide brain puzzles or mimic musical instruments.
If the individual is capable of engaging with an app or device, there’s no harm in using it, Dancy says. All staff in Valeo communities are encouraged to engage with residents, and that can include technology as appropriate. Staff, for example, might ask a resident about his or her favorite artist or musical genre, then pull up a song on their phone.
There is also no one-size-fits-all approach around technology. Some individuals may be more accustomed to using technology in the past, and could benefit more from it than others.
If technology us used in one of our communities, it must enhance the Valeo philosophy of engagement.
Technology for Communication
One of the most valuable uses of technology in a memory care setting is maintaining communication with family. Technology offers another avenue to connect beyond only those instances when adult children or family members visit the community.
Several Valeo communities have incorporated the Caremerge system. With it, each family member can download the free Caremerge Family App, and use it to view photos of their parents or loved ones throughout the day and communicate with on-site caregivers via text message.
Technology like Caremerge can also ease feelings of caregiver guilt. Despite the comforts and security that a memory care community can offer, many struggle with the choice to move their parent into a community. Having a technological touchpoint can provide more peace of mind knowing a loved one is only an app-click away.
Caremerge also provides management and program directors with numerous tools to help coordinate events through a central calendar or to communicate with families or other team members.
Before officially incorporating technologies into a community, clinical leadership should assess the service to ensure it will enhance–not take away–from the resident experience. At the end of the day, use of technology in a memory care setting should engage residents with positive, legacy-building experiences and provide another communication channel with families.