What’s Next in Dementia Care? Zoom, Virtual Reality and Real-Time “Tele-mentoring”

By: Susan Ryan

As memory care providers are hard at work educating staff members to provide the best care possible for the ever-growing numbers of people living with dementia (PLWD), the need for forward-thinking approaches to such care is as important as ever. Indeed, many very good dementia care models are out there.

But as a leader working to change and improve the culture around memory care, The Green House Project (GHP) has developed its own dementia approach—one that is founded on GHP’s core values of real home, meaningful life and empowered staff. With the help of two very forward-thinking dementia experts in the field—Al Power, M.D. and Anne Ellett, NP—we created Best Life, a holistic model that seeks to destigmatize and individualize PLWD to create truly person-directed approaches.

Best Life is designed to equip care teams with new beliefs, behaviors and systems that enable them to better support PLWD to live meaningful and purposeful lives.

The success of Best Life in Green House homes led us to expand the initiative and incorporate a new concept that amplifies and sustains the Best Life model overall.

It is within this context that Best Life Impact was born. Best Life Impact is an initiative that encompasses three core components: (1) Best Life; (2) Embodied Labs, the standout virtual reality (VR) innovation that enables users to understand the perspective of PLWD; (3) and Project ECHO, a nonprofit “tele-mentoring” initiative that uses proven adult learning techniques and interactive video technology to connect groups of providers with specialists in regular, real-time collaborative sessions. 

Together, these three elements are known as Best Life Impact, and they create a synergistic innovation that I believe has the capacity to change dementia care and knowledge dissemination forever. After experiencing the initiative over the past five months, I am in awe of its simplistic brilliance and its potential for profound impact.

Launched on August 23, 2019, Best Life Impact is a pilot project that will operate for another eight months under the coordination of GHP’s team, with metrics and measures that we believe will demonstrate positive impact among the participants and PLWD.

Here’s how Best Life Impact works:

  1. GHP is a designated Project ECHO “hub,” with 11 senior living organizations serving as “spoke” sites that meet monthly on a Zoom video call for one-hour sessions.
  2. During the hour, one of the spoke sites presents a real-life case study of an individual living with dementia. As you might guess, the case studies are complex and challenging—such as elders who call out for help at seemingly random patterns; have difficulty sleeping, eating or drinking; or who have “aggressive” tendencies toward staff and other elders in the homes.
  3. Once a case study is presented, the 50 or so people on the call, which includes Shahbazim (certified nursing assistants), administrators, social workers and nurses, weigh in with questions and recommendations for consideration.
  4. The subject matter experts on the call—Anne Ellett, NP, Mike Belleville and Al Power, M.D.—then offer their own insights and recommendations.
  5. The didactic portion of the call begins about 30 minutes in, with one of the subject matter experts exploring a relevant topic to further ongoing learning and growth among participants. Contact hours for nurses and administrators are offered.
  6. Q & As are entertained throughout, making the session highly interactive and informative.

This promising initiative brings together more than 50 participants each month to obtain ongoing mentoring, discuss complex dementia care issues, and glean valuable recommendations from peers and highly acclaimed experts in the field.

What’s more, between each monthly meeting, participants continue their learning via the Embodied Labs VR technology platform and learn from topical webinars and education that are part of the Best Life program.

Another Project ECHO/Best Life Impact cohort is envisioned and expected to launch in 2020. Monitoring data collected from the pilot project will be used to inform and improve upon the next cohort.

I am looking forward to the results. If you are interested in joining us—or if you have some feedback or questions about this new endeavor—please reach out to me! I am always open to chatting about how to create relationship-rich, person-directed living environments for elders and the care partners who serve them.

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