Music can work like magic when it comes to dementia. Studies have shown that familiar songs calm dementia patients and help them connect to the world when they can no longer communicate verbally, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
The staff at The Village at Marymount, a senior living campus in Garfield Heights, understands the power of music. About two years ago, The Village at Marymount started a music therapy program, buying a dozen iPods for its residents. Each resident in the program keeps their own playlist of favorite tunes, some going back to the 1930s.
“If they get anxiety toward evening due to sundowning, they will listen to the tunes, and it’s amazing how it helps them settle down,” says Liz Pencak, director of marketing at The Village at Marymount. “They also become more communicative.”
The iPod program is just one way The Village at Marymount has introduced technology to residents on its campus, which includes: Marymount Place, a three-story, assisted-living facility; Villa St. Joseph, which provides both long-term nursing care and short-term physical rehab; Memory Care neighborhoods within Villa St. Joseph; and Clare Hall, a wing of Villa St. Joseph that provides long-term, palliative and hospice care.
Toward the end of last year, The Village at Marymount introduced virtual reality therapy. Grants from The Sisters of Charity and McGregor foundations paid for five sets of virtual-reality goggles that allow residents to “visit” penguins and elephants, either in the wild or in a zoo. The goggles came from Rendever, a company that specializes in virtual reality for seniors.
If residents remember their former addresses, Rendever can retrieve photos of their homes through Google Earth, allowing a virtual drop-in. Thanks to the virtual-reality program, The Village at Marymount staff have seen normally quiet and withdrawn residents suddenly come to life.
“We provide these things because of our mission,” says Sister Mary Alice Jarosz, director of mission integration at The Village at Marymount. “We want to provide good care with compassion to celebrate the lives these people have lived.”
New technology also has been applied to everyday tasks — like going to the bathroom. The Village at Marymount and Medline, a global maker of medical supplies, recently partnered on two studies focusing on toilet seats because reaching the bathroom and completing the task can be challenging for seniors who have difficulty seeing and moving, especially at night.
The result was a new, heated toilet seat with lighting. The seat even cleans seniors with water, then dries them, to reduce their reliance on toilet paper, which is rough on aging, thinning skin. Use of the system has reduced the number of urinary tract infections, which are a significant problem for seniors, especially women.
“This is cutting-edge technology,” Pencak says. “We tested the seats extensively and determined they absolutely did what they were intended to do.”
In March, Pencak says The Village at Marymount was in the process of installing the new toilet seats in all its assisted-living apartments. She says village officials are considering placing the seats in nursing-home units, too, as funds become available.
The addition of the new toilet seats also comes with physical therapy for those struggling with incontinence. Pencak says if seniors improve in this area, they will feel more confident attending group trips, which will make their lives more enjoyable.
Some technological advances at The Village at Marymount simply involve identifying better ways to do things. For example, about two years ago, the village bought a new van with a ramp for walkers and wheelchairs. The old van had a mechanical lift, which, while effective, was frightening to some residents.
Also, The Village at Marymount remodeled its food-service system, adding serveries on the floors to keep meals warm. The village got rid of hospital trays, and now residents are served meals in the dining area as if they are in a restaurant. That makes it more likely residents will leave their rooms and dine with neighbors.
Benefits of new technology are not limited to residents. The Village at Marymount plans to train nurses and aides with a system called Virtual Dementia Tour so they can better understand what it’s like to have dementia. They will wear special glasses that reduce vision, headphones that decrease hearing and comprehension and gloves that make it difficult to perform everyday tasks, like buttoning a shirt.
“We will include the Virtual Dementia Tour in our speaker series, so that adult children of our residents can experience it,” Pencak says.
Even with new technology, The Village at Marymount hasn’t changed in some vital ways. Unlike for-profit nursing homes that are part of large ownership groups, the village is still an independent, faith-based nonprofit, which sets the minds of spiritually minded residents at ease when they come to live here.
In addition, The Village at Marymount gives homes to seniors in every phase of life and is just a few feet away from Marymount Hospital, which is now a Cleveland Clinic facility.
The Village at Marymount’s approach to senior living is working. Villa St. Joseph was named a best nursing home for 2018-2019 by U.S. News and World Report. In 2019, for the first time in its history, the campus received zero citations from the Ohio Department of Health. And it has toggled back and forth between four- and five-star status, as determined by medicare.gov.
Jeff Myers, president of Villa St. Joseph, says the village doesn’t have a secret sauce. It simply hasn’t strayed from its original mission, despite changes in the way Medicaid and insurance companies reimburse senior-living facilities.
“It all comes down to the level and quality of care,” Jarosz says. “You can walk into the Taj Mahal and see more sparkling floors than you’ve ever seen, with all kinds of fancy amenities, but if you can’t find a staff member when you need them, you’re out of luck.”