Brookdale Starting Small, Thinking Big with Memory Care Innovations

As far as memory care’s concerned, Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD) is knee-deep in improving existing programs and introducing new innovations.

Recently, the senior living giant has committed to some memory care initiatives that are enhancing the lives of residents at all stages of dementia—and the lives of some children, too. Brookdale’s intergenerational programming for memory care residents and its efforts to maximize the potential of residents with early-stage dementia are currently relatively small in scale for a provider with more than 1,100 communities, but they’re already making a noticeable difference in residents’ lives.

As an added bonus, Brookdale’s memory care innovations are helping the senior living behemoth keep pace with smaller competitors that might seem more willing, and able, to try new things.

KinderCare partnership

Intergenerational programming has become all the rage in senior living—but adapting it to suit memory care residents, who may be nonverbal or otherwise unable to effectively communicate with even the most familiar of faces, has its own set of challenges.

In partnering with one childhood day care provider, Brookdale has determined how to make intergenerational programming work in memory care.

In Minnesota, Brookdale has started partnering with KinderCare Learning Centers, a day care and early childhood education company that has more than 1,400 locations nationwide. Residents at one of the provider’s stand-alone memory care communities—Brookdale North Oaks—now enjoy regular visits from the kids at KinderCare in Shoreview, Minnesota. But it took a while for the visits to become meaningful intergenerational programming, Kimberly Baar, the director of the Shoreview KinderCare center, tells Senior Housing News.

“The partnership has really been there on a small level for several years, it’s just that those visits weren’t meaningful,” Baar says. “The children weren’t building relationships with the seniors, it was transactional instead of beneficial.”

To change that, Baar felt, the kids—who are between 5 and 11 years old—needed to visit more often, she needed to learn more about Alzheimer’s progression, and the kids needed to have a better understanding of what it means to have dementia.

“I started having conversations with the children about what the program is, why we’re going there, how we respect someone else’s home, and teaching the children that they have a lot to offer the residents,” Baar explains.

Additionally, Brookdale and KinderCare arranged for Alzheimer’s Association representatives to visit participating KinderCare locations and teach the children about dementia.

After conducting research on her own, Baar created “memory bags” filled with items from the residents’ era—brooches, shaving brushes, hair rollers, baby pins—things she felt the children didn’t know about, but the residents certainly did.

When kids pull items out of the bags with the residents, it gives them the opportunity to have conversations back and forth, Baar says.

“The seniors will tell stories, and the kids think it’s great,” she says. “It’s sort of a mystery what they’re going to pull out of the bag next.”

Baar also has the kids create “friendship quilts” with the seniors. To make them, the kids are partnered with residents and they trace both of their hands on a piece of paper. The quilts that result hang in the Brookdale location.

Like the memory bags, the friendship quilts foster relationships.

“It’s encouraging touching hands, exchanging names,” Baar says.

Now, KinderCare Shoreview visits Brookdale North Oaks about once a month, Baar says. In other locations, kids visit Brookdale communities twice a month in the summer and on days when they’re off of school, Beth Landers, director of business development at Brookdale, tells SHN. KinderCare kids aren’t just visiting memory care residents, either—in Blaine, Minnesota, the kids are visiting Brookdale assisted living residents.

In July, Brookdale and KinderCare began intergenerational programs in four different Minnesota cities, with the hopes of reaching 10 Brookdale communities by the end of the year, Landers says. Eventually, Brookdale would like to pair all of its communities in the state with a KinderCare location.

“There are several KinderCare sites in locations near our communities,” Landers says. “Expanding the partnership on a national level is certainly being talked about. I think that as we continue to have success, that lends to the livability of the program.”

Baar, for one, would be glad to see the program expand.

“I would love to see it grow bigger,” she says. “I think it’s a deserving program. In fact, I don’t think you can find a negative thing about the program when it’s done respectfully.”

A memory care ‘hybrid’

One-size-fits-all memory care doesn’t always work, Brookdale has realized.

“We’ve really found a need in our continuum to create a program to service those folks who weren’t all the way ready for full-on memory care, but who needed more support,” Juliet Holt Klinger, Brookdale’s senior director of dementia care and programs, tells SHN.

With its Clare Bridge Crossings program, Brookdale feels like it’s found a way to fill that care continuum gap.

“Clare Bridge Crossings is specifically designed for folks living with early-stage dementia,” Holt Klinger says.

So far, Brookdale has rolled out Clare Bridge Crossings—a play off the name of Brookdale’s companywide memory care programming, Clare Bridge—in 14 of its communities, with three or four more communities expected to adopt it within a year, Holt Klinger says.


Clare Bridge Crossings at Brookdale Belle Meade

Clare Bridge and Clare Bridge Crossings don’t differ too much, Holt Klinger explains. The units, for instance, are similarly sized, with full, usable kitchens, veranda and courtyard access, and screened-in porches. Crossings rooms are less likely to be companion suites, though both Clare Bridge and Clare Bridge Crossings apartments are secured settings.

Where Clare Bridge Crossings truly starts to differ from its Clare Bridge counterpart is in its programming.

“We structure it a little bit like a hybrid between our assisted living community and our full-on Clare Bridge community,” Holt Klinger explains. Crossings residents are more engaged with their environments, and are encouraged to explore and act independently. Activities aren’t limited to “brain games,” either; Crossings looks to engage residents physically and socially.

“We exercise the brain and the body at the same time,” Holt Klinger says.

Crossings residents go on active outings, for instance. The residents may attend a lecture or complete a travelogue. A group in one Crossings location is even learning Spanish.


Clare Bridge Crossings at Brookdale Belle Meade

“Residents aren’t just sitting and playing brain games,” Holt Klinger says.

The idea to offer housing and programming specifically for residents with mild dementia is not unique to Brookdale; Sunrise Senior Living, Belmont Village Senior Living and Silverado Care all have similar programming, Holt Klinger acknowledges. Still, Brookdale is one of the only providers that is offering early-stage dementia care as a residential offering, as opposed to just a day program, she says.

“We feel very strongly that this is a 24/7 thing and that folks need support throughout the entire day,” Holt Klinger says.

In many cases, the Crossings program has clear advantages, but Brookdale does not plan to implement Crossings in all of its communities with memory care.

“We will continue to respond to the need,” Holt Klinger says. “It’s not a program that works in all locations or will be needed in all locations, but I think we’ll continue to expand.”

In the communities that do offer Crossings, the benefits to residents are noticeable.

“The program really helps uphold self esteem and gives folks with early dementia purpose and meaning,” Holt Klinger says. “The Crossings program is a great way to highlight the skills and talents of our residents living with dementia.”

Written by Mary Kate Nelson