Bloomfield, NJ-based Juniper Communities is planning to roll out a wellness program designed to improve quality of life for staff members and residents, encouraged by feedback from participants in a test of the program at one of its 24 communities.

The REfresh program teaches mind-body techniques related to posture, breathing, movement and reflection, drawing from the theory and research of positive psychology, neuroscience, mindfulness training, yoga and movement therapy. It features guided sessions, daily community wellness breaks, weekly themed topics, posters with inspirational messages, reminder takeaway cards and leadership training.

”Aligning with our mission to encourage active bodies and fulfilled spirits to empower people to live their best life, REfresh is one more example of Juniper’s commitment to changing the face of aging,” Juniper Communities founder and CEO said Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., said.

REfresh fits in with the guidelines Juniper has set for resident activities within its Alive in All Seasons program, Tsultrim Datso, Ph.D., co-creater and facilitator of the program, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “Mindfulness and physical exercise meet these requirements,” she said.

Residents and staff members participate in REfresh classes together, choosing to either stand or sit in a chair.

The program was tested for six months in late 2017 at Juniper Village at Brookline in State College, PA, in a pilot study that included staff members as well as independent living and assisted living residents.

“The program offered residents, their visiting families and associates four 20-minute classes a week,” Katzmann said. “The leadership team was offered an additional class each week and during associate education days.”

An analysis of 1,036 participant sessions (the number of participants multiplied by the number of sessions each attended) looked at data, surveys and focus group interviews and found that:

  • All responding residents and staff said they would recommend the program to others.
  • 87% reported increased enjoyment while working.
  • 75% said they felt more accepting of themselves and others.
  • 71% reported a greater sense of wellbeing in mind and spirit.
  • 71% said they had more thoughtful responses to others.
  • 68% reported a greater sense of wellbeing in body.
  • 68% said they had less stress.

“Sixty-one residents and 58 associates who participated liked the program, and the vast majority asked that it continue,” Katzmann wrote in a recent company newsletter article. “They loved that the program was a community-builder, erasing lines between residents and caregivers. Caregivers appreciated that leadership provided work time to take care of their wellbeing.”

Based on other research, Katzmann said that older adults who practice mindfulness may be able to better manage their stress and experience increased social support and quality of life, elevated mood, greater acceptance and awareness in daily life, and improved memory and cognitive flexibility. “On the associate side, research shows that mindfulness practices increase efficiency, compassion and creativity and support better work-life balance,” she added.

Juniper is continuing the REfresh program at Brookline while planning the rollout to all other Juniper communities beginning in 2019, Datso said. At Brookline, she added, the program has undergone “minor adjustments” in response to feedback, and it has been adapted to include the memory care and skilled nursing / rehabilitation parts of the retirement community.

“Staff workflow and the ability of residents vary by level of care. In each place, we used ‘community participatory program design,’ or needs assessment, to fit the program to that setting,” Datso said. “In so doing, new program elements emerged, such as the REfresh room for staff renewal and a REfresh mentoring program among staff.”

Meanwhile, other research is exploring technologies to enhance program delivery — audio sessions that can be used in each community, for instance, Datso said — and a training program for REfresh leaders and facilitators is being developed, she added.

Program begins with chance meeting

The REfresh program began with a chance meeting. Katzmann said she ran into Datso, whom she already knew, when she visited Juniper Village at Brookline not long the company purchased the community in 2014.

“Tsultrim told me about a research project she was doing at Penn State that demonstrated the power of mindfulness training on stress reduction in teachers,” the CEO said. Datso would go on to adapt that program, Community Approach to Learning Mindfully, or CALM, into what became REfresh.

“In 2016, Juniper served as a site for Penn State research on the CALM program … demonstrating what worked and what didn’t work,” Datso said. “Based on that experience, REfresh creators met with Juniper leadership on a weekly basis during the pilot to create a program for residents and staff.”

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