Take charge of change: Become – and stay – a leader in wellness

Written by Symbria Wellness Director, Joe Alvarado

How tired are you of change? It’s everywhere – in people, in politics, in process, and especially in healthcare. It’s unrelenting. And it will sucker punch you every time if you let it. 

How can senior living leaders beat change? Anticipate it, accept it, and deal with it through strategic planning and effective execution. Take this change for example, Lifecare communities are providing for a rapidly declining population and still must deliver on their commitments to provide a continuum of care. The National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS) shows that just over 20 percent of adults ages 65 to 69 have poor capacity (physical limitations, poor vision, poor hearing, or probable dementia), while more than 80 percent have poor capacity by age 90.

A wellness philosophy is proven to slow change

Proactive providers are managing this change by helping slow physical declines in a communities’ population with a proven fitness program that becomes fundamental to the fabric of community life. Comprehensive wellness programming –Age chart beginning with engaging fitness programs, the integration of technology, reliable and accurate assessments, activity opportunities, and more – keeps residents independent longer and delivers a substantial return on investment.
A report published by the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society detailed a 25-year research project that studied the number of disabled years (difficulty eating, bathing, toileting, etc.) experienced by 5,000 people age 65 and older. The researchers found that women experienced an average of 4.5 disabled years out of an average of 15.4 years lived after age 65. Men lived an average of 2.9 disabled years over of an average 12.4 years post 65. They also learned that both men and women with healthier lifestyles spent 1.7 fewer years disabled.
Clearly, those healthier people had a better quality of life. Supporting those healthier lives in a lifecare community requires added expense in terms of staff, space, and equipment. However, the estimated return on these investments can be substantial. Assume a resident experiencing fewer disabled years delays a move from independent living (estimated monthly cost $4,000) to assisted living (estimated monthly cost $6,000).
  • For a woman who experiences 2.8 fewer disabled years, her provider could save $64,000 (32 months x $2,000)
  • For a man who experiences 1.2 fewer disabled years, the provider could save $36,000 (18 months x $2,000)
Providers could experience even greater ROI increases assuming that, for some residents, a fitness-focused lifestyle would avoid or even eliminate admissions to skilled nursing.

One critical goal of fitness-focused wellness: Falls prevention

The disabled years that older adults face almost always involve an increased risk of falling, and it is well-documented that one fall typically leads to a second fall, and a third fall can result in death. 
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control :
The population of older adults in the United States is increasing; adults aged ≥85 years are the fastest-growing age group among U.S. residents and will reach approximately 8.9 million in 2030. Although the rate of deaths from falls is increasing among all persons aged ≥65 years, it is increasing fastest among those aged ≥85 years (3.9% per year). …If the current rate remains stable, an estimated 43,000 U.S. residents aged ≥65 years will die because of a fall in 2030, and if the rate continues to increase, 59,000 fall-related deaths could result.
The same CDC report adds that, as the U.S. population aged ≥65 years increases, health care providers can address the rising number of deaths from falls in this age group by asking about fall occurrences, assessing gait and balance, reviewing medications, and prescribing interventions such as strength and balance exercises or physical therapy. This is precisely why Symbria’s wellness program is initially focused on fitness as it will have the biggest impact on reducing falls. In fact, Symbria has experienced reduced falls of 40-60% in the communities that have adopted our program. 

Are you ready? Here’s where to start…

Base your new approach to wellness on a solid commitment to the concept and a strong belief in its value. Then, there are three basic and critical requirements to developing and implementing a successful fitness-focused wellness program.
1. Leadership. 
  •  Nothing happens without leadership buy-in and commitment.
  •  Top-down leadership is particularly influential in encouraging the organization as a whole to embrace fitness and technology.Capture
  •  Leadership must be all in, willing to allocate the necessary financial and people resources needed to succeed. 
  •  Leaders must stay with the program for the long term.
2. Program champion (Symbria’s team excels in this role!)
  •  The champion is a strong, respected individual, capable of assembling a resource-rich team and empowered to direct them. 
  •  The champion is accountable for all aspects of program development and implementation.
  •  The champion has strong communication skills and is able to promote the benefits of wellness to residents, family members, staff, referral sources, and other stakeholders. 
3.  Sophisticated, powerful technology
  •  Look at many technology products.
  •  Choose a product that aligns with your program objectives, promotes staff productivity, engages residents, and contributes to great outcomes.  
  •  Symbria Wellness uses VirtuSense technology (VST).
    1.    Artificial Intelligence (AI) removes subjectivity from assessments
    2.    Technology drives the type and delivery of fitness programming
    3.    VST supports individual and cohort progress reporting 
By implementing these three key elements, Symbria’s fitness programs typically achieve – and often exceed – 40 percent fall reduction.

What are the benefits of a well-defined and structured, fitness-focused wellness program?

Virtually any lifecare community can experience near-immediate results. Organizations with robust fitness programming (more than hiring a trainer a few times a week) will: 
  •  Maintain and even increase occupancy rates by extending independence 
  • Significantly reducing falls
    •  Improve risk management
    •  Reduce healthcare costs
  •  Create a competitive advantage and a higher profile in the market
  • Increase resident engagement and satisfaction
Embracing change can transform an organization so why not let fitness be the next positive change to impact your community. Let’s face it, change is inevitable as evident by changes in reimbursement, documentation demands and even new competitive pressures, but it shouldn’t be intimidating.  Focus on the positive outcomes change can bring-like a significant reduction in fall risk- and let that help drive change in your community. 
Jacob, M., Yee, L., Diehr, P., et al. (2016) "Can a Healthy Lifestyle Compress the Disabled Period in Older Adults?", Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 64:1952-1961.
Burns E., Kakara R. (2018) "Deaths from Falls Among Persons Aged ≥65 Years — the United States, 2007–2016", MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 67:509–514.


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