Bernie Cavis

A wealth of research has been published over the past 10 years providing new insight into the lives of seniors. One of the most serious of findings was that, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression in people aged 65 or more years has become a major public health problem. What is particularly frightening about this research is that illnesses such as depression can result in other complications, such as heart disease, insomnia or even death. That is why it has become more important than ever for assisted living providers to develop positive and interactive programming for their residents, to promote socialization and stimulation and keep the mind and body challenged.

Building off this premise, how can we as resident program developers accomplish those goals? One way that we have had success is through developing new cultural experiences. Studies by the late Gene Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., who was director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., indicate that the quality of life in seniors can improve through exposure to the arts and humanities. Embracing the fine arts, food, language, literature and art of other cultures is proven to affect individuals in positive ways by inducing both psychologic and physiologic healing. At Commonwealth Assisted Living, we examined this research as well as the culturally diverse demographic of our residents to develop one commonality: travel.

Travel in one shape or form is something that all humans do and is something to which we all can relate. Late last year, our team developed a program to leverage travel as a theme for our resident programming across all 22 of our communities. The program, called Travel the World, ties together the positive effects that arts and culture exposure has on the wellbeing of residents under the banner of traveling. We provided all of our residents with special passports and introduced them to a year-long calendar of events and programs highlighting the cultural treasures of a different country each month. Community activities directors are provided with a variety of resources, including films, web resources, books and other materials to prepare them for each month. Standards also are put in place to ensure that activities directors are delivering high-quality programs but with the flexibility to adjust them per the tastes of the residents. Additionally, through a wonderful partnership with our dining services team, we can provide signature dishes representative of each country on which we are focusing.

Programs such as these are always somewhat of a gamble because you are never 100% sure about resident, family member or prospect reactions. Our team, however, is seeing amazing feedback and results. Despite running for only about 45 plus days at the time of this writing, executive directors at each community have been flooded with positive comments from residents and family members alike. Team members also are amazed by the enthusiasm that Travel the World has brought to each community between staff and residents alike. Everyone is learning new facts and gaining a greater appreciation for the world we live in. Most importantly, the morale at our communities has seen a significant boost since Travel the World started.

Delivering high-quality resident programming is an ever-evolving mix of science and culture. Placing a greater emphasis on arts and humanities will help to provide a better quality of life for residents in assisted living. After all, it is the appreciation for the arts and humanities that connects us.

Bernadette Cavis is vice president of resident programs at Commonwealth Assisted Living. She has more than 25 years of experience in the senior living industry. Cavis is responsible for designing and facilitating life enrichment programs that meet the needs of all residents. She also acts as the primary resource for community activity directors and supervises the regional memory care directors. Cavis is a graduate of the University of South Florida and is a certified dementia trainer.