“STOP – You’re not supposed to . . . !”

A staff member is walking across the lobby and sees Mr. Smith trying to open the front door and exit wman with walker at doorith the aid of his walker.   The following scenarios illustrate 3 different approaches to this situation[i].  In each case, the resident receives a message that may be very clear or more subtle, but conveys information about the community’s culture and  resident management philosophy. This can impact both the resident’s well-being and the perceptions of visitors who observe the encounter.

1)   You Can’t:

The staff member yells “STOP” as she runs to the door.  In a loud voice, she then asks Mr. Smith “What are you doing?” telling him that he is not allowed to go “out there” alone.

Maybe the resident simply wanted a breath of fresh air or to enjoy the sunshine for a few minutes[ii].  Regardless, this approach generally leads to either a confrontation or total submission by the resident.  The first is reminiscent of the “Mother, Please…” scenario with the resident even becoming combative because he is being told what he CAN’T DO!  The other response can be just as devastating because a flicker of independent thought and action has just been snuffed out!

2)   You Shouldn’t:

In the second scenario, the staff member walks expeditiously (but doesn’t run) to the door and greets Mr. Smith there.  She opens the door for him while counseling that he should never try to open the door by himself.  She warns him that he might get hurt and should always ask a staff person for assistance.  She was cheerful, upbeat and walked away thinking: “I’m glad I walked by when I did because I got a chance to do something nice for Mr. Smith.  I’m a good person and good employee!”

Unfortunately, her good intentions were off the mark and Mr. Smith received a very different message.  He just had his frailties emphasized and made to feel disabled with the reminder that he is no longer capable of “even opening a door for himself”.  All he heard was that he shouldn’t try to do it himself and probably never even heard or internalized that the staff would be happy to help him when he wanted it.  These may even contribute to feelings of being “trapped” and isolated in the senior living community.

3)   It’s OKAY:

As an alternative, the staff member could greet Mr. Smith and begin to engage him in conversation while walking toward the door.  (e.g. “Hey, Mr. Smith.  How are you doing this morning?  Boy, it sure looks cool {rainy, hot, etc.} out there today.”) The employee then has two options:

  1. Ask him: “Can I give you a hand with that door?”  This enables the resident to preserve dignity by being offered a choice that can be graciously accepted.  For ladies, I generally add something like “my Dad always taught me to be a gentleman and it’s my pleasure to open the door for you.”  The act of opening the door becomes a courtesy instead of a necessity.
  2. Continue the conversation through the door.  This is the most subtle approach as the staff person is able to effortlessly hold the door open for the resident without making an issue of it.  This has taken a couple of minutes of the employee’s time but been a great investment in resident relations.

The employee’s response to this situation[iii] is a combination of the community’s culture and the individual’s own concepts and beliefs.  Both evolve over time and are influenced by training (e.g. “soft skills”), policies & procedures, stated management philosophies, and the personality of the people involved.  Creating a culture that PROMOTES ON-GOING INDEPENDENCE[iv] for the residents will have a direct impact on the type(s) of people who choose to move into the senior living community.

In the next segment, we’ll explore how the design decisions of the Architect and Management support or conflict with the desired cultural perception.  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE {by clicking on the “Sign me up!” button at the bottom of the right hand column} to make sure you don’t miss any exciting installments.


[i] In each example, it’s assumed that this isn’t an outside entrance to a secured memory care unit or skilled nursing facility and that Mr. Smith is mentally competent and not at risk for elopement.

[ii] Recent studies have shown some potential of benefits from daily exposure to natural light in delaying the onset and/or effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

[iii] Note:  each of these scenarios is considered positive because the employee recognized the resident and intervened instead of simply continuing to walk past.

[iv] This is a basic tenet of the Progressive Retirement Lifestyles program.  You may contact Art Carr at 615-414-5217 or art@progressiveretirement.com to learn how these concepts may be applied to your organization.

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