While the senior living industry has long operated successful communities to provide care for the aging population, the industry as a whole has lacked a comprehensive approach to research around aging, and improving care through that research.
All that might be changing, if recent initiatives are any indication.
Various academic and other institutions are making strides with educational programs and departments designated not only to geriatrics, but to aging technology, senior living, design, construction and more. Some, such as the University of Washington, University of California San Diego and George Mason University are taking interdepartmental approaches. Industry organizations such as the American Seniors Housing Association are also spearheading research efforts.
And this is also happening on the community level, with several innovative partnerships that are now in place to measure outcomes, pilot technologies and shape processes around measures of success.
The Broadmead meets Johns Hopkins University
One such partnership launched last week between CCRC Broadmead in Cockeysville, Maryland, and Johns Hopkins HealthCare in Baltimore. Through a partnership agreement, the organizations will target two areas—dementia care and health and wellness—to drive best practices from evidence-based research and develop centers of excellence in each of those areas.
“We couldn’t do this in a silo,” Broadmead CEO John Howl tells SHN. “We needed to find academics in our market and develop research- and evidence-based programs, then metrics and outcome measurements so we can prove what we are doing is making a difference in the lives of those we are serving.”
With major research institution Johns Hopkins in the Broadmead’s “backyard,” the organizations talked for some months about collaborating before bringing the partnership to fruition. Some of the Broadmead’s residents are even Hopkins alumni or those who have worked at Hopkins, which Howl says strengthens the relationship further.
The CCRC is committing 18 months to the development of programs across dementia care and health and wellness, and will reposition the entire community and design spaces that support the program. That includes moving away from the historic institutional look and feel of skilled nursing, for example.
It also includes looking into the situations of seniors who are moving into independent living as a couple, but for whom one spouse is trying to support the other.
“It’s a person-centered approach to care,” Howl says.
Johns Hopkins is supporting the initiative with a dedicated advisory board that spans Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professors and directors experienced in geriatrics and gerontology, among other areas of expertise.
The CCRC also will collaborate with Johns Hopkins on an existing program, Mind at Home, that has found ways to reduce care costs for those who wish to age in their homes, rather than to move into costlier skilled nursing community options.
To date, the program has found participants are able to delay skilled nursing placement by eight to 10 months, Howl says.
“I’m so excited about what this [partnership] means for Broadmead for the next 10 to 20 years, and as the centers of excellence develop, it’s about continuing to do research and responding to what’s happening,” Howl says. “This is not self-serving, but to share with our peers and other groups so that this good work can continue.”
Clark Retirement and Grand Valley State University
Clark Retirement in Grand Rapids, Michigan has taken the partnership concept a step further: the CCRC serves as a classroom for nursing students at a local university.
Clark, which provides all levels of care including 111 accommodations in skilled nursing, has teamed with Grand Valley State University’s school of nursing to embed a dedicated education unit (DEU)—the first of its kind in Michigan, Clark CEO Brian Pangle tells SHN.
“Our campus becomes one of their settings—that place for nursing students to experience in a much more in-depth way what this level of health care [involves],” he says.
Through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the state of Michigan and the federal government ensure the students are placed under the CCRC’s authority and the authority of its director of nursing.
“Generally speaking, they had to make sure we are an appropriate site,” Pangle says.
The nurses on site participate in the instruction of the nursing students, providing an opportunity for learning by all involved.
“In a hospital, it’s not unusual to have residents coming through,” Pangle says. “Now we are doing that.”
Westminster-Canterbury, Eastern Virginia Medical School and Virginia Wesleyan College
In a recent three-pronged approach to research, Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay is yet another example of this innovative partnership model. Its approach encompasses not one, but two local institutions: Eastern Virginia Medical School and Virginia Wesleyan College.
The non-profit life care community is partnering with the two academic institutions on research around memory care and caregiver stress. The first project for the partnership will examine engagement through technology to determine whether it can impact behavior and moods of those with dementia, as well as alleviate caregiver stress.
Funding for the project has been made possible through a board member donation of $228,000. It will include 31 residents of the community who suffer from dementia and face challenges around participation in social activities. During the 24-week program, they will use a touchscreen technology designed by Colorado-based It’s Never 2 Late (iN2L) to determine whether positive outcomes are seen among the residents and caregivers.
“With baby boomers entering their retirement years and life spans lengthening, there’s an urgent need for more research into how to improve the lives of people throughout the aging process,” said Westminster-Canterbury CEO Ben Uncle. “We hope to take a leadership role through an ongoing program of work with academia to investigate new approaches to senior services. Our goal is improve aging for older adults and their families both locally and nationally.”
A separate set of 31 dementia residents will be paid with with personalized therapeutic recreation programs. After 12 weeks, the two groups will switch roles and the efficacy of the computerized program will be measured.
“This project is one of the few rigorously randomized controlled studies testing the efficacy of technology for people with cognitive impairment,” said study co-investigator Dr. Paul Aravich, an EVMS neuroscientist whose appointments include serving with the school’s Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology. “There is increasing interest in developing positive behavioral controls for people with dementia, rather than using psychotropic medication, known as ‘pharmaceutical restraints.’”
Eastern Virginia Medical School students and Virginia Wesleyan College therapeutic recreation interns will carry out the daily tasks of the study.
“This is another benefit, because it will promote what we call ‘inter-professionalism,’ giving them insights into each others’ programs to facilitate stronger working relationships and better patient care as they undertake their careers,” Aravich said. “The students will also have the opportunity to get to know, understand and better value people with dementia. This could lead them to consider specializing in geriatrics, which the nation greatly needs.”
Written by Elizabeth Ecker