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Memory Care Reset: How Providers are Revamping and Rebranding for Changing Market 

The Aspenwood Company is launching a new memory care program encompassing all different areas of the resident experience, joining in a larger trend across the industry of operators hitting reset on their memory care offerings.

They are doing so to elevate care and the resident experience while driving revenue — and to position themselves for a “potentially years-long period of growth and high demand.”

Other examples of this trend include the new Lavender Hills program at English Meadows, the Sanctuary by Strive launch at Strive Senior Living, Discovery Senior Living’s SHINE offering and Sonida Senior Living’s Magnolia Trails program.

Houston, Texas-based The Aspenwood Company has a goal of enriching care for improving the overall experience for residents and boosting care revenue.

“I want our residents to have the best life possible and this is a way that we can do that,” Aspenwood President Heather Tussing told Senior Housing News.

The yet-to-be-named memory care program will be science-based, with research informing “every aspect” of the program, from dining to programming to resident care, Tussing said. This in turn will create an environment for residents that is “failure-free,” with opportunities to have new experiences.

“Leveraging as much research as we can is important to make sure that there’s a purpose behind each and every interaction that we have,” Tussing said.

New consumers, new workers, new practices

In 2021, Christiansburg, Virginia-based English Meadows worked with Dementia By Day Founder Rachael Wonderlin to develop its branded memory care program, Lavender Hills. And the rollout for operators can be somewhat seamless, being able to integrate a new program into a larger branding strategy.

Wonderlin and the team chose the Lavender Hills name based on its thematic connection to the English Meadows name, and tailored typefaces and designs to match the operator’s broader brand standards.

“We tried to create something that makes sense and already existed within English Meadows,” Wonderlin told Senior Housing News last year. “Continuity is very important. You want families and outside organizations to associate the program with English Meadows.”

Today, Lavender Hills is made up of 10 memory care communities and is performing strongly, according to CEO Mike Williams.

“We’re looking to have a true ecosystem in the communities that we work in to where we can offer a host of services outside of the four walls to those communities,” Williams said.

Earlier this month, a recent NIC Executive Insights survey found that move-ins accelerated for memory care units in the last 30 days. About 40% of memory care and 41% of assisted living operators anticipate occupancy recovery in 2023. Even so, only about a quarter of operators anticipate occupancy to recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

Still, those providers that have revised and relaunched their memory care programs appear to be having success in tapping growing demand. Sonida notched early progress on occupancy and rate increases with Magnolia Trails. Discovery likewise achieved occupancy gains of around 4% early in the rollout of SHINE, while added revenue outpaced costs of implementation for the program, driving NOI.

Part of this success comes from adapting programs to meet the market, particularly for an increasing number of residents with dementia stemming from mixed causes, as well as more residents with early-onset dementia, Discovery’s Corporate Director of Memory Care Dawn Platt said last year at SHN’s BRAIN event.

And in the midst of labor market disruption, new memory care models also incorporate new approaches to staff recruitment and training, including a greater reliance on technology and ongoing opportunities to gain more advanced credentials, which can lead to career advancement and enhanced wages.

“We are constantly training, we are constantly offering extra credentials and other opportunities to grow,” Platt said. “We have to empower and trust our caregivers and I think that goes a long way.”

Sunshine Retirement, which updated its memory care program with expanded wellness offerings in 2020, is tying dollars to the “engagement and growth” of its workers, Mindy Podraza, corporate director of health care, said at BRAIN.

And Podraza emphasized the need for other providers across the sector to reevaluate their memory care programs.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we think our business is going to continue as usual,” she said.

Inside Aspenwood’s program

Tussing, who started with the company last September, was hired to bring change to the organization, she stressed. She started with an assessment of The Aspenwood Company’s 12 communities to identify service area weaknesses and the organization’s strengths. One of those areas that wasn’t as strong was memory care, so Tussing set about building a new program.

From there, Tussing partnered with The Best Friends Approach to Dementia Care co-author David Troxel to help redefine memory care for the company. Tussing said Troxel helped create the “initial framework” of the new memory care program. That also comes as the company has a “new relationship” with Rice University in Houston, with Aspenwood to use some of their research on aging to inform the program.

“It’s going to be everything from programming to the environment, the resident experience, dining programs, sensory stations,” Tussing said. “It’s literally everything that encompasses a resident’s day.”

Participating communities with existing memory care units will see the new program roll out starting in early July, Tussing confirmed, at nine of the company’s communities. A 13th community is coming to Tennessee and is currently under construction.

Residents in the new program will also have the opportunity to participate, if they so choose, in brain health studies conducted at Rice University.

“Having the institutional connection will allow us to keep our finger on the pulse of innovative research and ways that we can be different,” Tussing said. “I think this new formed relationship with Rice will allow us to really continue to hone and fine tune our program to be truly exceptional.”

With new revenue generation a byproduct of the new program, Tussing said it was a “win-win” for Aspenwood, providing new and expanded care to residents while boosting the bottom line. The new program will lead to new training for staff, and allow Aspenwood teams to grow as new needs rise from the program. That will include a dementia detective guide, to help enhance the understanding of behaviors of residents in memory care and allow for more personalized care.

The memory care program also brings “purpose points” to the memory care communities through sensory stations and includes programming with art, language and positive affirmation.

Another initiative will be doing something called “Parkside Projects,” in which memory care teams and residents volunteer or participate in philanthropic activity, from knitting for newborns or creating blankets, with the focus of the philanthropic project changing monthly.

“We’re going to start our day with our residents coming together and having a purpose,” Tussing said.
Editor’s Note: Tickets are currently available to the 2023 BRAIN conference, taking place July 20, in Washington, D.C. Click here for further information.

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