Charles de Vilmorin headshot
Charles de Vilmorin

“It is those who start with why, who have the ability to inspire those around them.” — Simon Sinek

Senior living providers increasingly are focused on providing customized, person-centered  experiences to the older adults they serve, and it has become essential for them to reflect on the why of resident engagement.

It still is too common to see provider websites “selling” prospective residents and their families on how they will maximize each resident’s quality of life through a personalized experience, only to find that these communities aren’t equipped to deliver on that promise. How many residents actually benefit from personalized engagement that allows them to find purpose every day? Sadly, the answer is very few. 

Activity directors and life enrichment professionals, so often pushed to the side in our industry and offered small budgets and minimal support, are in fact the key to achieving meaningful resident engagement. They know that regardless of diagnosis, as a person ages, he or she frequently loses the ability to stay connected to what brings purpose to their individual lives. When it comes to providing meaningful engagement opportunities, senior living is far behind other industries, because most often provide just the standard three B’s of engagement: Bingo, Birthday and Bible.

The aging process can mean an increase in chronic conditions, disease, loneliness and cognitive impairment, all of which easily can lead to despair if an older adult is not offered opportunities to engage meaningfully with the environment and people nearby. Famously, Viktor E. Frankl said, “Who has a why can bear almost any how,” and it remains true that as long as a person has unfettered access to meaningful engagement, that person can remain resilient in the face of the challenges associated with aging.

The power of resiliency and meaning is captured perfectly in this 2019 NIC Talk by Patricia Boyle, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral sciences and neuropsychologist with the Rush University’s Alzheimer’s Disease Center. In the talk, she describes how purpose in life reduces suffering in the face of adversity and may have health benefits. In fact, The Rush Memory & Aging Project, a study of 2,500 older people in the Chicago area, found that purpose in life is one of the most robust predictors of health and wellness in old age. Those with a high sense of purpose are less likely to develop dementia. Also, they have a slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of mortality, and they even experience less of an effect from Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. 

Why would a provider offer this type of experience to every resident instead of just the status quo? First, studies have shown that clinical measures of health and well-being for residents will improve. In fact, results of a recent Linked Senior study funded by the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation and published in the Seniors Housing & Care Journal showed that quality engagement supported with technology improved resident health, well-being and financial savings up to $22,000 per year per building. Having healthier and happier residents means that less money is spent related to unnecessary medications, costly staff burnout and turnover, and rehospitalizations.

Additionally, having access to meaningful engagement opportunities each day is a basic human right. It is time that dignity is restored to older adults by bringing fun, hope and social connection back into their daily lives.

The why of the resident engagement is to help older adults find meaning in their lives and stay connected to their purpose regardless of their interests or cognitive changes. To achieve this goal, it is important that senior living providers collaborate with those they serve to fully understand what purposeful living means to them. It’s time to seize this opportunity and make our industry proud of how we treat older generations.