How a digital platform can help activity directors

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Bill Nutting
Bill Nutting

“Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

— Plato, 356 BC

The U.S. music and entertainment market is expected to be worth $771 billion by 2019, up from $632 billion in 2015, according to the “Entertainment & Media Outlook” by PricewaterhouseCoopers. That's more than $2,000 for each person living in the United States.

A recent survey of activity directors in assisted living by Play it for Seniors, however, found that they serve an average of 150 residents, hold five monthly entertainment events and have an average monthly budget of $350 for those events. That equates to $70 per event and $28 per resident annually.

In this same survey, activity directors reported that 70% of today's events involve one or more of the following: music soloists, singing soloists or bands. The survey also found that activity directors have an interest in incorporating a wider range of entertainers, including game show hosts, impersonators, holiday appearances (such as Santa), certified music therapists and music instructors. Not surprisingly, respondents cited lack of access to entertainers and budget/affordably as their primary obstacles, and these are two areas where the senior living industry is struggling for solutions.

The power of music

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to witness the challenge of securing entertainment for senior residents firsthand. My mother was placed in hospice care in Naples, FL. When I first visited her, I noticed a small digital piano in the hallway, collecting dust. The nurses said it hadn't been played in months, citing a lack of budget and little access to local musicians. With that, I carried the keyboard into her room and began to play one of her favorites, “Satin Doll.” Suddenly, her eyes opened, and with a rare smile, she whispered, “Can you play it again?”

Since then, I've been earnestly studying the effect and availability/affordability of music and entertainment for seniors. Early research led me to articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post and Psychology Today. Each in its own way described the various ways that music and entertainment increasingly are benefiting seniors.

This early research of mine revealed three distinct areas of focus, all of which are important to supporting the needs of senior residents yet are rarely found in any single senior living community.

  1. Live music: Older adults have a continued, high level of interest in live music and in entertainment, including concerts.
  2. Learn and play music: Residents are interested in both learning and playing music in a seniors-only band or orchestra.
  3. Music therapy: Music has a positive effect on older adults with dementia. (Also as conveyed in 2014's “Alive Inside” documentary.)

The conundrum

Behind this opportunity was the challenge of matching an oversupply of interested musicians and entertainers today with activity directors struggling to find/book entertainers in all three aforementioned focus areas.

Senior living entertainment lacked today's “choice/compare” digital, multiple-choice platform akin to industries such as travel (sites such as Expedia), financial services (sites such as Lending Tree) and automotive (for instance, Autotrader). This type of platform is needed to ease access, enable the user to compare/contrast services, offer free quotes and enable the booking of local entertainers across a wide variety of entertainment categories nationwide. Use of the platform also can provide an incremental competitive advantage in the recruitment and retention of residents and enable activity directors to stretch their entertainment budgets as entertainers compete for business.

The solution is based on my research findings and is designed to offer free, easy, online access to a wide variety of reliable and affordable entertainment. But it also goes a step further by providing an opportunity for users to share industry-specific, senior community, entertainment-related best practices; interact via community blogs; and share evaluation forms and YouTube videos, all in one online location. The end result is meant to be a win-win-win-win for all parties: residents, activity directors, operators and entertainers.

Bill Nutting is the founder of Play it for Seniors, a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission of maximizing the positive influence of entertainment nationally in a time-efficient manner. A free service, the organization has established relationships, partnerships and strategies that enable operators to expand their entertainment options.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes marketplace columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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