Medical Archives – Varsity Branding

Category: Medical

In the wake of so much negative news about skilled nursing facilities in the midst of the global pandemic, the Varsity PR team thought, “How can we generate positive, relevant news stories for our clients?”

One client, the National Association for the Support of Long Term Care (NASL), felt the same way. We worked together to develop positive, health-related story angles to position NASL, and its members, as thought leaders in the therapy field.

The story angle we landed on: Why therapists are essential to patients recovering from COVID-19, and the evolution of their role amid the crisis.

There’s been much publicity about COVID-19 patients recovering and leaving hospitals. But another story wasn’t being told—about the serious long-term health challenges of getting patients back to their baseline. There is an essential need for therapists to help patients eat, walk, think and return to doing day-to-day tasks. Therapists, we quickly learned, are about as critical to patients recovering from COVID-19 as the hospital staff who initially treat them.Varsity worked with NASL, and a few of their Philadelphia member therapy providers, to develop the story angle. We pitched it to the health reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer, which resulted in an in-depth piece about the significant contributions of therapists in helping patients recover from COVID-19.

Here’s a link to the story, which was the lead article on the front page of the Sunday paper and also ran online.

We’re proud that we could get in front of the pandemic with a positive story. It positions NASL members not only as experts, but tells the important story of why therapists are essential in the recovery from COVID-19.

Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re working to garner positive publicity for your organization:

  1. Build your contacts. It’s important to cultivate relationships with key reporters who would be interested in what you have to offer; this way, you’ll already have someone to contact when a story idea arrives.
  2. Know the media landscape. Timing is everything. If your story relates to a topic in the news, you’ll have a greater chance of getting reporters interested.
  3. Follow through. You can’t just send the pitch and hope for the best. We recommend emailing and/or calling the reporter to follow up after you’ve sent the pitch. If you land the story, make sure the reporter has all necessary information to complete the story, e.g., an interview schedule. Keep on top of things and get the reporter the information they need.
  4. Realize it’s not all about your client. Nine times out of ten, reporters will look to other resources as well, and they may feature and quote several companies and spokespersons in the piece.
  5. Be patient. This story didn’t happen overnight. It was a process that involved looking at the current media landscape, identifying the reporter we wanted to reach, crafting the pitch, and assisting with coordinating interviews and therapy observation sessions.

PR isn’t easy, but it is rewarding to see clients get recognition for being the experts they truly are. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, crafting the pitch and being prepared to follow the story all the way to the end.

 

In this post, I’d like to bring awareness to some of the safety issues facing senior living communities. Specifically, I’d like to focus in on the number one cause of accidental death in seniors: falls.

The statistics about falls in aging services are shocking. The costs of falls in senior care are expected to reach $65 billion annually. And falls aren’t only costly, but extremely impactful on the overall health of the aging population. Retirement communities and home care providers are constantly looking for ways to evaluate mitigation strategies and drive better outcomes by reducing falls and proactively preventing them all together. The power to solve this problem lies in the data.

One of the most proactive measures you can take against falls is gathering your first-party data and analyzing it. First-party data, or data that the community or organization owns, is often overlooked, but it’s an incredibly valuable tool. In many instances, it’s mandated by the government or other organizations, so why not use it and put it to work? The way the organization has behaved regarding falls or other issues provides valuable information for future behavior and insights.

WildFig, Varsity’s data analytics partner, has worked with communities to understand their first party fall data and take action using that information. The WildFig team has tackled problems such as falls across the entire analytics continuum through a custom lens. Most notably, the team has developed:

  • Custom dashboards to visualize data around falls
  • Intervention reporting and tracking
  • Root cause analysis around previous fall behaviors and outcomes
  • Predictive models around falls to support population health management
  • A consulting and data-driven framework for healthcare providers to apply to their ongoing workflows around causal impact, benchmarking and intervention strategies

Data is so important to fall prevention because it provides valuable insights into former behavior which can be utilized to inform future outcomes, potential mitigations and strategies focused on proactivity versus being reactive. Oftentimes fall prevention strategies are looking backward versus forward. Our work is aimed at giving communities tools to be ahead of the event versus behind it, whenever possible.

One senior living provider that has been in the early stages of using data for fall analysis and prevention is Meth-Wick Community in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Meth-Wick CEO Robin Mixdorf is a trailblazer, thought leader and big thinker who realized that Meth-Wick had been collecting valuable falls data for several years, but needed it organized into an easy-to-use, simple-to-visualize system. She wanted to find a way to use that data to its best advantage so that the community could plan interventions to help reduce the impact of falls. That’s when she turned to WildFig. The collaboration between the two organizations has achieved exciting outcomes and helped Meth-Wick Community utilize data to impact areas in which changes needed to be made, such as making sure there was the right level of staffing at certain times and places, ensuring that the right floor coverings were in place, and offering balance classes to residents who were at risk for falls.

But what if your organization hasn’t been using your data, or using it to its best ability? First, know that you’re not alone. A recent survey from Black Book Market Research shows that only 3 percent of long-term care communities have the ability for data assessment.

Lack of data-specific staff, lack of in-house resources, other priorities and a variety of other factors impact the use and implementation of data in all organizations, not just communities.  But getting started with using data is well worth the effort. At WildFig, we see data as having many benefits:

  • Makes the experience in a community more personalized
  • Reduces friction
  • Enhances the overall health and wellness of resident
  • Provides opportunities for workforce development as employees gain new skills and expertise
  • Improves communication with family members

If you haven’t been analyzing data up to this point, how should you get started? The best way to begin is with a question. Oftentimes, because of the broader meme of big data, decision makers think through a more complicated lens when it comes to analytics. In its purest form, analytics is about answering questions and providing insights. The questions themselves can range from simple to complex. Falls is only one example: any question a community has can be informed by data.

 

About WildFig

WildFig was founded to help organizations in senior living and other sectors meet increasing demands for efficiency in a complicated marketplace. Our team saw an unmet need for analytics across all industries and we love the challenge and value we can provide. We help our clients navigate the data-driven landscape through mathematical, statistical and computational tools ranging from data mining to forecast modeling.

To learn more about the work WildFig is doing to solve problems for our clients, visit us at wildfigdata.com. If you’d like to discuss how you can harness your data to overcome your organization’s biggest challenges, email us to arrange a consultation.

 

 

 

As more areas open up, communities met virtually for roundtable #14 to discuss this week’s reopenings and answer one another’s questions.

Check out the recap of our discussion below. Please also join us for our next sales and marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Questions from attendees:

What can our resident panel talk about in an upcoming Zoom call?

Ideas discussed:

  • Ask residents to share what they’ve been up to on campus (and the fun they’re having)
  • Talk about dining and activities
  • Discuss safety protocols in place
  • Talk about how the administration communicates with residents and keeps them engaged
    • Were you respected as a resident and individual?
    • How did the community try to keep life as normal as possible?
    • Do you have any regrets or wish you were still at home? (Use caution on this one; make sure you know what the resident will say)
  • Contrast social engagement vs. social isolation

One participant asked about struggling with visually interacting with prospects since they can’t meet in person. How do residents interact with people? Is a Zoom meeting better than a Zoom webinar platform?

Ideas discussed:

  • Webinars are good for larger conferences, and meetings seem to be better for more personal interactions with fewer than 10 to 15 people
  • Zoom meetings allow for breakout rooms and more personal conversations
  • Strive to book a private Zoom meeting in the days following a presentation to have a more personal conversation

We will explore this topic more in next week’s roundtable.

Join the next roundtable on July 2!

Come kick off the holiday weekend at our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, July 2, at noon ET.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

Last Thursday, communities came together to talk about the need to market their communities differently in the current environment.

You’ll find a recap of the discussion below. Please also feel free to join our next sales & marketing roundtable, coming up this week.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on June 11!

You are welcome to join our next roundtable discussion on Thursday, June 11, at 12 p.m. ET. Our Senior Social Media Strategist, Cara Stefchak, will share social media trends and best practices against the backdrop of Covid-19.

You don’t have to be a client to join — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

As COVID-19 continues to impact senior living, we held another virtual roundtable to see what sales & marketing tactics are working now — and what will change at communities after restrictions are lifted. Check out the highlights below.

All are welcome to attend our sales & marketing roundtable next week. Details below.

Join the next sales & marketing roundtable on April 30!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Thursday, April 30, at noon ET.

Kim Lehman, Varsity’s PR director, will join us for part of the session to share tips and trends on PR/crisis communications.

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

Response to our COVID-19 conversations continues to be enthusiastic, so we held Sales & Marketing Roundtable #3 last week. For those who weren’t able to make it,  the high points are below.

We’re gathering for our next virtual discussion this week, and all are invited to attend.

 

Join the next roundtable on April 16!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session on Thursday, April 16, at noon ET, for a sales & marketing discussion.

You don’t have to be a client to join the conversation — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

 

 

Last Monday, we organized a virtual forum where communities exchanged ideas about engaging residents during the coronavirus shutdown. Check out their creative solutions below.

We’re holding another Resident Life roundtable soon, and all are welcome to attend.

Join the next Resident Life roundtable on April 20!

We thank everyone for participating, and we invite you to join the next session, Monday, April 20, at noon ET: Resident Life discussion

You don’t have to be a client to join the session — all are welcome. For call-in information, email DDunham@VarsityBranding.com.

 

We know that every community and business in the aging services space is trying to stay ahead of safety and communications for the COVID-19 virus while juggling the needs of residents and staying connected with prospects. This led us to think about some free and easy tips that can keep current and future residents engaged and upbeat as much as possible while their movement is restricted.

Here are some ideas we’ve collected that we wanted to share with you. We realize that there are many more out there, but we thought this would be a good place to start.

Keeping Residents Engaged

Educational opportunities/lifelong learning/cultural stimulation

Spiritual grounding

Exercise

Connections

  • Use in-house channels to share “coffee chats” with residents.
  • Ask residents to send pics of what they enjoy doing in their homes to share with others in the community.
  • Encourage residents to FaceTime with each other and with their families. (Send an email to all family members encouraging them to FaceTime with their loved ones regularly.)
  • Caution against reading social media or listening to “hype” on TV or the radio, and encourage residents to reach out to the appropriate person if they’re at a low point.

Maintaining relationships with prospects

It’s important to always look for opportunities to follow up with prospects in meaningful ways, and the coronavirus pandemic is one of those (unfortunate) opportunities. Call your prospects to check on them during this health crisis, and ask if they are doing okay. Do they have food in the house? Is there anything they need? If they are local, drop off soup, muffins, toilet paper or other necessities on their doorstep. Recommend Netflix movies, documentaries, comedy shows or online live theater performances that might appeal to them. Give them ideas on how to stay safe, entertained, occupied and healthy. They will be grateful that you thought of them during this extremely stressful time.

In addition, we recommend virtual marketing events, where you can share details, floor plan walk-throughs, advice and just somebody new to talk with.

Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social detachment. During these troubling times, we all have to find new ways to stay connected.

 

At the 2019 LeadingAge Tennessee Conference and EXPO, an entire audience of people sat together quietly, eyes closed, remembering how they felt on the first day of school.

After several minutes, the presenter had them open their eyes and share their feelings. Emotions ranged from fear and excitement to nervousness and anxiety.

Why did presenter Melissa Ward, PT, MS, RAC-CT, Vice President of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at Functional Pathways, have the audience do this exercise? She wanted to evoke the emotions students and parents feel on the first day of school, which is very similar to the way residents and their loved ones may feel on their first day in a retirement community.

Trying to find your way around an unfamiliar place can be a tremendous adjustment, and the move can be just as stressful for families leaving their loved ones. But there are ways to help the transition go more smoothly, like the techniques described in this recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living. And now, new residents and their families have another powerful resource to draw on: a unique program developed by the Functional Pathways team.

According to Ward, the Transition Concierge Program began as a “what-if” idea about two years ago. “A client community was  struggling with having residents successfully age in place,” Ward said. “New residents came in and weren’t engaged in community life. They weren’t taking advantage of everything available on the campus. This issue was leading to increased risk for falls and residents requiring higher levels of care.”

That’s when the Functional Pathways Team, led by Beth Reigart, Clinical Outcomes Specialist, decided to create the new Transition Concierge Program. This collaborative approach brings together a powerful arsenal of tools, including social services, nursing, therapy, activities, wellness, resident programming, resident support groups, resources for the family, on-campus physician services and more. By making the transition smoother, the program helps residents successfully age in place.

How the Transition Concierge Program Works

When the resident moves in, a Navigation Team conducts in-depth standardized assessments. Then, an Interdisciplinary Team creates a plan of individualized support. Every element is geared toward giving the individual input into his or her own life.

Here are a couple of examples: If a resident has breathing problems, he or she may need a plan that addresses limitations in endurance to make it possible to get to the bistro. If a resident has low vision, apartment modifications or a plan to get and read mail may be needed. Every resident adjusts to resident living at a different rate, according to Ward. The program was designed to provide services and support that fit each individual’s unique needs.

More Than Just a Real Estate Transaction

The Functional Pathways team believes that moving into an independent living community should be “more than just a real estate transaction.” It’s fostering a true continuum of care through this innovative service.

New residents may still face those first-day-of-school jitters. Fortunately, this innovative collaboration helps ease the transition so they can find passion and purpose in their new environment.

How is your community helping resident transitions go more smoothly? Let me know at DDunham@VarsityBranding.com. I’d love to feature your strategies in an upcoming blog post.

 

 

People bring all kinds of stuff to the gym when they work out — water bottles, headphones, yoga mats.

The boxers at the Rock Steady Boxing class for those with Parkinson’s are notable for what they don’t bring: their canes. Many of them have made such great progress, they can walk into the gym without them.

Since April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, I talked to Tammy Smith, a volunteer and co-founder of the Rock Steady Harrisburg Boxing program, held at the West Shore Academy of Martial Arts (WSAMA), right around the corner from the Varsity offices. The program is one of 775 affiliates in the national Rock Steady program, a revolutionary boxing training designed especially for people with Parkinson’s.

The program is driven by a team of volunteers and certified Rock Steady Boxing coaches, including the owner of WSAMA, who are passionate about helping to improve the lives of those living with Parkinson’s disease.

The coaches are proud that many boxers in the early stages of Parkinson’s have improved their balance so much through the program that they are able to walk in without the use of a cane. And, unlike many people who sign up for a gym membership and quit a few weeks later, these boxers have nearly perfect attendance. “They don’t miss a class unless they have a serious reason,” said Smith. “They are literally fighting for their lives.”

She goes on to describe the Rock Steady training. “Boxers do a lot of vocal exercises — the coach has them yell out — which combats the issue of their voices tending to get slow and soft. They do a lot of floor exercises, and they also practice falling. If you have Parkinson’s, you have to be comfortable going to the floor because of balance issues. Our coaches teach them how to fall properly and how to get off the floor if they’ve fallen, as well as how to get off a chair — things that you and I may take for granted.”

The program opened its doors in October 2018, and the results have been phenomenal. “We’ve had a tremendous response,” Smith said. In a few short months, boxers’ accomplishments have included decreasing some of their medications, reducing tremors — especially during certain times of the day — and improving coordination and reaction time. “One boxer was thrilled that he can now put his foot on a chair and tie his shoe,” Smith said.

Then, there are the emotional wins. “The coaches are reporting that people who are close to the boxers have noticed a lot of changes in mood and attitude,” said Smith. “They are no longer embarrassed about their symptoms, which used to make them withdraw. In the class they all have similar symptoms, so they can really be themselves and laugh and let loose. Rock Steady brings them together, motivates them and helps with energy and mobility — it’s a win-win,” she said.

“There’s no cure for Parkinson’s,” she went on. “Rock Steady Boxing can improve quality of life and, in some cases, delay the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. I think people are starting to understand that if you want to fight back against it, this is what you have to do.”

The reason Smith pursued Rock Steady Boxing was her father, who has had Parkinson’s disease for over two decades. “For years, we struggled with any sort of resources for Parkinson’s disease in the area,” Smith said. “It was a huge goal of mine to get Rock Steady Boxing up and going, so I traveled to Indianapolis to become a certified coach and bring home the Rock Steady Harrisburg affiliation.”

Chief and Master Instructor Vince Vergara of the West Shore Academy of Martial Arts and one of his coaches, Allyson Halbach, heard through the grapevine that Smith was already certified and held an affiliation and was looking to sponsor a program for her business— so, the two parties came together.

They began with classes for people in the early stages of Parkinson’s and now have opened classes for people with more advanced symptoms. The program is growing rapidly, partly from physician referrals. Class fees are low and go right back into the program. “Anyone that is thinking about taking a class is welcome to come and observe,” Smith said.

Smith is also involved with the Parkinson’s Foundation, speaks about the benefits of Rock Steady and organizes Parkinson’s-related resources and fundraising events in the area, one of which is the 2nd Annual Knockout PD 5K. She invites everyone to come out to the event on Saturday, April 13, at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown. Learn more about the race here.

 

 

 

Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a socially assistive robot called Ryan, now being developed at the University of Denver. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” could benefit seniors living with depression and dementia.

Today, Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, shares some of her favorite stories about resident interactions with Ryan.

DW’s Story: Reengaging in the Community

DW struggled with depression after the loss of his wife earlier this year. We no longer saw him smile, and he had begun to isolate, no longer taking meals in our dining room or attending holiday parties. At 93, he had limited access to technology in his lifetime — and certainly not to a robot! What transpired was the old DW returning to us. He smiled and laughed again and was always on time, never missing a session. His daughter was thrilled that her dad was once again engaging in the community, and it lessened the stress she felt when she was away on business. DW will tell you that it “was fun” and that “Ryan helped take my mind off the constant thoughts of my wife. It gave my mind a new direction, you might say,” he said. He felt valued, helping the interns achieve their goals and receiving the opportunity to engage with younger adults.

LW’s Story: Overcoming Depression

LW was another unexpected success. As a younger resident with a higher level of education, I was not sure what to expect. She surprised me when she said that “Ryan understands me; she knows what I am going to say before I do.” LW struggled with depression that was intensified by her recent move to the community. Over the course of the trials, she began to report that moving here had improved her mood, and she looked forward to her sessions with Ryan. She is anxious to further participate in clinical trials and recognizes that Ryan helped her overcome the deep depression she felt earlier this year. I am happy to say that she is now an active community member, participating in many social events and helping her neighbor regain her love of art.

PN’s Story: Making a Friend

PN was thrilled when invited to participate with Ryan. He frequently commented on how beautiful her smile and facial features were. He recalls how he asked her out to dinner, but she declined, saying she was not hungry! PN commented on the variations in facial expressions and quality of speech. He was aware of these features and how it affected his relationship with her. PN looked forward to his interaction with Ryan, and the excitement that followed after his sessions was priceless!

BC’s Story: Seeing His Dream Come True

This resident had studied psychology in the 1950s and had particularly enjoyed the area of artificial intelligence. In his 90s, and highly educated, BC enjoyed seeing the “future” that, years earlier, he could only dream of. After his sessions, he would smile and talk at length about the interactions. It was great to see his mind stimulated and the smile he was well known for return when his health was failing him.

See Ryan from her inventor’s perspective in another blog.

 

 

 

Eaton Senior Communities is home to 164 residents and, occasionally, a breakthrough, socially assistive robot called Ryan — created at the University of Denver — which could soon be available to the general public. In a series of posts, I’m talking to people involved in this fascinating project and getting their perspectives on how this lifelike “companionbot” is helping older adults who are living with depression and dementia.

Today, I’m speaking with Sarah Schoeder, wellness director at Eaton Senior Communities, who is a liaison between the residents and the team of scientists developing Ryan. Sarah has been serving the geriatric community for 38 years, including 20 years as an LPN in a skilled nursing facility.

 

Wayne: Sarah, what was it like trying to get residents to participate in the robot pilot studies?

Sarah: I would visit them and drop this idea in their lap, and they’d look at me like I was crazy. I’ve approached a lot of residents whom I didn’t expect to get involved — some of them in their 90s. To see them go from giving me a look like, “You’re kidding me” to becoming excited, looking forward to the sessions and wanting to be involved in the next set of trials, it’s been amazing.

 

Wayne: Did the residents have input about the changes in the robot?

Sarah: Yes, residents would give feedback about what they’d like the robot to look like and sound like — what they’d like it to say. Then, the team would make changes.

 

Wayne: How has the robot changed over time?

Sarah: Ryan’s facial features appear more natural, and the improvement in the movement of her head has given her a “softer touch.” Her smile is beautiful, and she makes me want to smile back!

 

Wayne: Were you concerned that residents might not want to finish the project?

Sarah: Yes, but all residents in both trials of 2018 completed all sessions, which spoke highly of the project goals. Some residents were hesitant and perhaps a little fearful, but after spending time with Ryan, their attitudes completely changed. Ryan has touched the lives of Eaton residents by providing unconditional companionship and interest in their lives. The improvement in mood and cognition was apparent as residents were exposed to educational opportunities and stimulating interactions.

 

Wayne: Does Ryan have a sense of humor?

Sarah: Yes! I’ll give you an example. One resident who was hosting Ryan in her room was walking down the hall, and she said to me, “Can you believe what that crazy thing just said to me?” She went on to say that she and Ryan were talking about how the Denver Broncos were competing against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and Ryan announced that she was a Patriots fan — in the heart of Bronco country!

 

Wayne: How will this new technology help people age in place?

Sarah: One of the biggest reasons people move into assisted living is that they can’t manage their medicines. If Ryan reminds me to take my medicine, that might be the defining moment that keeps me home.

 

Wayne: How has this experience changed your views on robotics?

Sarah: If someone told me five years ago that I’d be sitting here telling you robots could be valued members of a health care team — that I’d be endorsing them as part of the health care model — I would not have believed it, but I’ve learned that the robot is not replacing me as a nurse and caregiver. It’s just empowering me to be more successful in senior living.

 

Sarah will share stories about resident interactions with Ryan in next week’s blog. 

Soon, older adults will have access to a breakthrough new tool to improve their quality of life. Mohammad Mahoor, PhD, director of the computer vision and social robotics laboratory at the University of Denver, has spent the last decade working with his students to create and refine an amazingly lifelike, socially assistive robot named Ryan, which can provide deep social interaction and companionship to people living alone.

Designed to address challenges of aging — like dementia, depression and loneliness — this “companionbot” can recognize faces and emotions, express feelings, hold conversations and remember individual comments for future interactions to build a relationship over time. Ryan’s face is expressive and lifelike; she can turn her head to react to voices and movement, and her torso contains a screen for playing music and games, watching videos, looking at photos and doing other activities. Ryan’s next iteration will also have active arms so she can coach people in light exercises to improve their physical fitness.

In a pilot study, six residents at Eaton Senior Communities in Lakewood, Colorado, had 24/7 access to Ryan in their apartments for a period of 4–6 weeks. Ryan was customized for each participant, with photos for an album, daily schedules, favorite music and topics of interest for YouTube video searches. Participants could call Ryan by the name of their choice.

Observations, interviews and analyses revealed that the residents established rapport with the robot and greatly valued and enjoyed having a companionbot in their apartment. They also believed that the robot helped them maintain their schedule, improved their mood and stimulated them mentally. One user shared that, “She [Ryan] was just enjoyable. We were SAD to see her go.”

After the staff at Eaton Senior Communities told me how thrilled the residents were with their experiences with Ryan, I spoke with Dr. Mahoor about his invention.

 

 Wayne: Why did you create Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We wanted to address the needs of older people living with dementia, loneliness and depression. There is a shortage of caregivers, and care is expensive — Ryan is a great form of companionship. She can help seniors lead better lives at home.

 

Wayne: Can you talk about the testing process?

Dr. Mahoor: The first round of testing, in 2016, was a six-month, piloted study at Eaton Senior Communities. All of the features were not ready, the cognitive games were simple, and the speech recognition had some glitches — but we received very positive feedback. After making changes, we did two more pilot studies this year. One focused on how Ryan can help people with dementia through cognitive behavioral therapy. The second pilot study was totally autonomous. Users had half an hour of interaction with Ryan for 3–4 weeks to test the emotion recognition technology.

 

Wayne: Were there any surprises when people first began interacting with Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: At first, we had a fear that people wouldn’t like Ryan. But even in the early stages, they reacted very positively. We noticed that the more time they spent talking with Ryan, the more they enjoyed it, and they wanted her to tell them more stories and jokes — even gossip! When we took the robot away from one of the residents, he literally cried. The bond was so strong that he was very sad. It was really surprising for me that a robot could make such a huge impact on people’s lives. I didn’t expect that much of a connection between machine and human.

 

Wayne: What challenges did you face when test-driving Ryan?
Dr. Mahoor: One of the challenges is that you have to be patient because multiple people cannot talk to Ryan at the same time — you have to take your turn so that she can listen and understand you.

 

Wayne: What kinds of results have you had?

Dr. Mahoor: When we measured mood and depression before, during and after phase one of our study, we found that Ryan significantly improved users’ moods and lessened their depression.

 

Wayne: What’s next for Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: We received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for phase one, and now we are in transition to phase two. NIH has approved our next grant from a scientific perspective. Now it just needs to approve the budget. Phase two would be a grant of over a million dollars to help us study Ryan’s impact on the progression of dementia.

 

Wayne: How unique is Ryan?

Dr. Mahoor: There are other robots out there, but this is the first one developed with features customized to help with depression and dementia through social conversations, games and other interactions.

 

Wayne: When will Ryan be available on the market?

Dr. Mahoor: We are very close; I’m hoping by the end of the year. We’ve started working with investors to begin production. Users love Ryan, the feedback has been positive, and we’ve made improvements. It’s time to go to market to fulfill our mission of helping the health care industry.

 

Wayne: How much will she cost?

Dr. Mahoor: Manufacturing each Ryan costs thousands, so to make her more cost-effective, we have a subscription-leasing plan in mind. The cost would be about $400 per month for individuals, but if a corporation wanted to lease multiple Ryans, the rate would adjust. One Ryan can be reprogrammed to serve multiple residents.

 

Wayne: What would you say to people who worry that robots will take over the world?

Dr. Mahoor: Ryan is going to complement the time and support of caregivers and help make their lives easier — not take over and replace them.

 

Wayne: Are you surprised at where you are today?

Dr. Mahoor: Yes. When we first started several years ago, I didn’t think we’d be in a position to commercialize the invention; I didn’t think we’d be a startup meeting with investors. I’m so happy about our progress. For us to be in a position to bring a robot to market that’s going to improve health care and impact people’s lives for the better is amazing.

 

Learn more about Dr. Mahoor’s companionbot, Ryan, at Dreamfacetech.com.

 

 

Last year, a piece I wrote regarding substance use and abuse in the senior population was published at McKnight’s Senior Living.

The response was so overwhelming that we’ve continued the dialogue with a second McKnight’s Senior Living article, with hopes that further conversations will be inspired around this growing challenge for older adults. To read it, click here.

 

 

 

 

As we head into 2019, we look back on an exciting year for the Varsity blog! Here’s a countdown of our most popular posts for 2018. It’s a potpourri of topics, from serious to humorous to touching. One common thread: innovative ways of helping people age well, from a world-renowned village for people experiencing dementia to LEGOs.

  1. Older Adults Experiencing Homelessness Inspired by an experience our president Wayne Langley had passing an underpass in Los Angeles, this three-part series provides insights into how older individuals experiencing homelessness are treated. Read the first installment here.
  1. Difficulties in Diagnosing Parkinson’s Disease  In this guest post, Rebecca Evans of geriatric nursing.org discusses the second most common age-related disease after Alzheimer’s, including the lack of a precise screening test and why early diagnosis is so important. Read it here.
  1. Remembering Sal J. Molite, Jr.  Derek Dunham, vice president of client services at Varsity, pays his respects to Sal J. Molite, Jr., former president of Edenwald Communities in Towson, Maryland, who sadly passed away in January 2018. He was a true friend and colleague, who had a passion and dedication for the aging services. Read the post.
  1. American Hogeweyk — an Interview with UMC’s Larry Carlson Varsity spoke with Larry Carlson, President and CEO of United Methodist Communities, on his fascinating experience visiting Hogeweyk, the world-famous memory support community in The Netherlands. Read the post.
  1. Playing with LEGOs Could Help Older Adults Our most-read post of the year came from Robinson Smith, Varsity creative director and lover of all toys and games. Rob discusses Adult Fans of Legos (AFOLS), many of whom are older adults who use Legos to engage in a creative exercise for the mind. Read the post.

That’s our countdown of top posts for 2018! Stay tuned for more fresh perspectives in 2019, and please contact us  if there’s a topic or issue you’d like us to cover.

 

Wouldn’t you like to know on which day of the week residents exercise most? In what weather they exercise least? Where staff and residents interact most on campus? The answers to these and other questions were revealed in a LeadingAge Annual Meeting & Expo session on data’s link to wellness. Missed it? Watch the video to hear residents and leaders share how big data makes a big difference in well-being.

The video kicked off “Linking Data to Wellness, a Personalized Approach to Well-being,” presented by John Bassounas, Partner, Varsity; Kevin Purcell, Chief Data Scientist, Varsity; and Justin Margut, Wellness Manager, Bethany Village Retirement Community.

The session revealed three important things data analysis can tell you about wellness:

  1. The movement of behavior and trends among your residents at all levels of care
  2. How residents use the resources and facilities within a community
  3. Patterns of interaction between staff and residents along the continuum of care

For the rest of the session’s insights, contact us for an in-person presentation.

It’s Movember, which means that men all over the world are growing mos (moustaches) to raise awareness of men’s health issues. As the moustachery draws to a close, other traditions are sprouting: Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday.

How can Giving Tuesday organizers turn Boomer attention away from doorbusters and toward donations? One way is to take a page from the Movember playbook and target Millennials. Although this generation doesn’t yet have the financial firepower of Boomers, it can be the match that ignites the flame of Boomer giving.

“Younger generations are more inclined to get behind the cause because it’s an easy way to have fun while doing good, and the Movember brand is very indicative of that,” said a Movember representative. “This definitely sparks interest from older generations, who in turn are intrigued and want to learn more.” With support from all generations, the Movember movement has raised more than $710 million in 21 countries to fight conditions such as prostate cancer.

What style mo do Boomers like to sport? “A lot of older men like to exude sophistication with their moustaches,” said a Movember representative, “so The Boxcar and The Connoisseur are usually their go-tos.” Learn more about Movember, and check out the moustache style guide here.

Researchers are testing a new treatment that could prevent Alzheimers’ many years before any memory loss occurs. How does the one-of-a-kind drug work? By destroying the build-up of amyloids, proteins produced in the brain that can form deposits that cause memory loss.

Scientists believe that the study offers new hope for Alzheimers’, because it is the first trial of a drug designed to prevent memory loss, not just treat it. The study is called Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer’s (A4 for short).

Want to protect yourself and the people you love from Alzheimer’s? Join the A4 study. Researchers are looking for healthy people between the ages of 65-85 to participate. To find out if you are eligible, visit the A4 website or call 1-844-A4STUDY. As the study’s slogan says, “Now is the time.”

Medical expenses are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. As the Boomer generation hits retirement age, paying for healthcare will only get more challenging. So what’s the solution?

 

Some people turn to crowdfunding to fill in the gaps that Medicare and Social Security leave. The medical category is growing exponentially on sites like GoFundMe. According to a recent article in Time, “Medical, Illness and Healing” is GoFundMe’s most popular section, bringing in 26% of all donations. In 2014, it helped raise $147 million for medical costs, up from $6 million in 2012.

Crowdfunding does have drawbacks, especially for members of the 65 and over crowd, who often suffer from common chronic conditions of aging, not exotic diseases. According to a 2014 Georgia Tech study, showing that a condition is rare or unique drives people to donate. And in a New York Times story, a healthcare expert said, “The need for geriatric care is so far and wide that it’s hard to draw out interest.”

Some families with older relatives, having run out of options, feel they have no other choice but to ask for donations via crowdfunding. But what’s it like to be on the receiving end of these heartfelt electronic pleas? ?

In one case we know of, an entire group of extended family and friends received emails with a link to a crowdfunding site. One branch of the family was facing major financial expenses for their father, an elderly man with serious health issues. Because the father’s healthcare expenses had decimated his funds, his children felt they had no other option but to ask for contributions through the crowdfunding site. They plan to care for their father at home, and part of the donated money will go toward making the house wheelchair accessible.

Upon receiving the emails, the potential donors felt sympathetic to the situation, knowing how difficult it was for the man’s children to reach out. Still, the request caused a few ripples of controversy, as many of the family and friends were dealing with their own serious financial challenges. They pulled together and raised some money, but the man’s children are still short of their goal.

That’s not uncommon. Although some people are lucky enough to raise thousands of dollars through crowdfunding, most campaigns do not go viral and most pledges come from the user’s personal network of family and friends. The average amount raised at GoFundMe is just $1,126. Then, there are taxes to deal with, the site fee and the risk that the insurance company will deduct the amount received from its part of the payment.

For many people, crowdfunding is not a magic bullet. But, with hundreds of sites out there and more popping up all the time, it looks like it’s here to stay.

As healthcare expenses keep rising as our population ages, it seems that our inboxes may not only be clogged with medical bills, but with crowdfunding appeals.

Products We Like: LiftWare Spoon According to the National Parkinson Foundation, around 1 million people currently suffer from Parkinson’s disease in the U.S., and 50,000-60,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

For those suffering from the disease, simple tasks such as eating can become increasingly difficult as tremors increase. The LiftWare spoon, developed by Lift Labs, addresses that issue by providing a simple way for sufferers to maintain their independence in one area of their life.

Created by Anupam Pathak, a student at the University of Michigan, the spoon features anti-tremor technology, which counter-balances the user’s shaking hand and allows them to eat without spilling.

Here’s how it works: An embedded computer captures motion signals detected by sensors, identifies the user’s tremor, and then moves the spoon in the opposite direction of that tremor – a process the company calls “active cancellation.” You can read more from the developer and the research behind the technology here.

The LiftWare spoon will be available in September at an MSRP of $295, and includes “Lift Pulse,” a free iOS and Android app that records and calculates the magnitude of the tremors using the phone’s built-in accelerometers.

MARKETING INSIGHT: Although the disease can affect any age group, it’s more prevalent among Boomers and seniors, so just like memory issues, we’re bound to see a subsequent increase in the occurrence of the disease as the population ages. Most existing utensils that are used for therapeutic or restorative dining are focused on ergonomics – this unit is “smart.”

Raised awareness and high-profile persons suffering from disabilities (thank you, Michael J. Fox) have helped to stimulate the number of products and services catering to those consumers. Food and beverage brands, as well as houseware companies, senior care and therapy providers would be wise to partner with smart tech innovations and find ways to cater to the physical ailments suffered by Boomers and seniors.

Regards,

The Varsity Team

skincare anti aging products Less than two years ago, analysts were predicting the market for anti-aging products, services and innovations would grow to more than $114 billion, thanks to increasing demand from Boomers and seniors.

To uncover part of that demand, we need look no further than Project Looking Glass II. What does skincare have to do with senior services? On the surface, nothing. But in that study, many of our retirement community subjects were still in the workforce and planned to remain there. Apply that mindset nationwide, and you’ve got tens of thousands of potential customers who are still looking to maintain a youthful appearance to remain relevant in the workplace.

The analysts were right and wrong. While the market has indeed grown, it has become saturated, and the category’s main contingent consists of women over 55 who report being confused by the number of products as well as their claims.

The industry has responded (wisely) with a “stage not age” push, launching new products that address skincare beyond the physical signs of aging such as wrinkles, lines and age spots. New innovations include products that address skin needs due to changes in life stage – including hormonal changes. Yes, you read that correctly.

Manufacturers claim that decreased estrogen production associated with menopause or aging can affect the skin’s ability retain moisture or repair itself.

Anti-aging skincare products that address changing skin needs beyond just treating wrinkles may help to bolster category sales. Murad leads the way with its Resurgence® line, targeting consumers going through menopause. Vichy Laboratories collaborated with not only dermatologists, but also obstetricians, gynecologists and psychologists to understand how women’s hormonal changes impact the skin. Finally, Naterra International’s Phase+line of skincare products is specifically designed to address the effects of diabetes, which tends to cause extremely dry, cracked skin.

It’s an interesting trend. And although it’s currently relegated to the high-end brands, experts are quick to point out that, given the competitive nature of the skincare industry, consumers will eventually see a lot of “me too” mass marketing.

MARKETING INSIGHT: The health and beauty market has always been a bit ahead of the curve, and they were early to realize the spending power of the mature market. Products that create unique positioning while addressing typical consumer concerns, as well as connecting a youthful appearance to workplace success are the opportunities.

Smart mature consumers already agree that lifestyle choices such as diet, sleep and exercise impact aging and its effects. However, products that speak to overall wellness, as opposed to just treating the physical signs of aging, could be winners.

Regards,

The Varsity Team

electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) The first impressions of health information technology (HIT) – including electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR) – was that it held great promise for improving healthcare quality and safety, along with reducing the costs of providing care in the post-acute or long-term care setting.

The last time we covered HIT, and specifically EHR in the senior living industry, several multi-campus communities had already made the switch into the paperless realm.

Some preliminary data from LeadingAge and Ziegler‘s jointly commissioned LZ 100 survey shows that 79% of the largest LeadingAge members currently have an EHR system in place and plan to increase their investment over the next 12 months.

Note that we said largest.

Despite the advantages of EHR adoption for the long term care facilities using them and payers, the systems don’t come cheap, and costs vary depending on the type of system being deployed.

The study noted that, under a Software as a Service (SaaS), where a provider contracts directly with an EHR/EMR vendor for an annual service charge, implementing the technology could cost nearly $260,000 for a 25-bed facility over a period of five years. A third party-hosted solution would cost the same facility $254,279, while an in-house solution would ring in at more than $355,000 for the same five-year period.

Add to this the fact that EMR and point of care solutions can place a strain on a community’s current IT infrastructure, and require new measures to be put in place for security and access.

The benefits of going “paperless” are well-documented. EMR systems have a direct effect on positive outcomes, staff efficiency, the virtual elimination of medication errors, increased face time with residents and family members, and yes, cost savings.

As assisted living and skilled providers begin partnering with hospitals and other care providers in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), it will become more important to be able to move data seamlessly between those organizations, as well as provide hard data showing that they’re providing quality care.

MARKETING INSIGHT: For smaller facilities, adopting an EHR system remains cost prohibitive, and the likelihood of widespread adoption in the next three to five years remains low. Clearly, policy initiatives, programs and financing options must be put into place.

Those who are on the fence about such systems should consider the following:

  • Being seen as thought leaders with state-of-the-art technology;
  • The federal mandate requiring all healthcare facilities to have electronic health records;
  • The ability to align with an ACO or become a preferred destination for post-acute therapy;
  • Marked improvements in quality, efficiency and effectiveness of care;
  • Improvements to the quality of documentation; and
  • Reduced the paperwork for employees.