Seniors Full Court Press Team “Travels” Around the World in 80 Minutes

International models designed with seniors in mind allow couples to safely live together as they age.

On June 10, the Senior Residential Living Full Court Press Team "traveled" around the world from the comfort of their homes to explore creative, uplifting models of care, senior living, and social policy implemented in many countries, and to consider what could be applied in the United States. The 80-minute session took team members to Denmark, Spain, Sweden, and Japan, countries that are embracing the changing demographics and technologies that could support more seniors to age independently at home. The Team, chaired by Eric Rodriguez, MD, MPH, also welcomed guest expert speakers to provide their insights on the models. 

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) has often looked to international models for program and policy inspiration, noted JHF President & CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein, PhD, describing past study tours completed including Australia, Toronto, and Spain. This session also built on a program JHF organized and presented at an April 2021 International Women's Forum Women in Health Care Special Interest Group meeting, to explore international, innovative senior care models.

In Denmark, the team learned about Dementia Villages, residential communities designed to support senior couples to live and age well together, safely. Located on an island, the project has expanded an existing care center into a self-contained village, with 125 homes, that hopes to give persons with dementia a safer place to live and a more fulfilling life than they might find in a typical care center. In Sweden, policies with similar goals have been made to help couples live together through old age, through public-private partnerships.

For Spain, the team heard about the work of Mercè Boada Rovira, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer of private non-profit organization Fundacio ACE in Barcelona, Spain. Dr. Boada Rovira's dementia work and research focuses on improving diagnosis, personal patient attention, and respite programs for families, in contrast to the U.S. focus on drug and advanced disease research for people with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. In 2019, current JHF Board Chair Debra Caplan, MPA, Dr. Feinstein, and JHF COO and Chief Program Officer Nancy Zionts, MBA had met with Dr. Rovira on their study tour and got to see first-hand the innovative programming and research she leads. Her organization, Fundacio ACE, as a day care center for adults with early-stage Alzheimer's, provides tailored diagnostics, non-pharmacological therapies, and a training and education program for patients and families, while conducting innovative research. Dr. Rovira stressed the feminization of dementia, with women disproportionately bearing both the burden of the disease and the caregiving responsibilities. She emphasized the need to examine how to support women affected by dementia (both patients and families).

Focusing on Japan, Margarita Estévez-Abe, PhD, associate professor of political science at Syracuse University spoke on Japan's aging policies, workforce, and outcomes. She noted that Japan's high-quality long-term care is funded by a social security system, which supports their senior population, part of the most aged society in the world. Japanese nursing homes were much better protected from COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic because of their safety net, and the country overall has had a small pandemic death toll, she noted.

The team then viewed examples of innovative robotics, developed in Japan, Israel and elsewhere, that assist seniors and provide better senior care. Examples include robots to provide comfort, medication dispensing, entertainment, communication with families, and assistance with lifting patients.

The Full Court Press Team then shared challenges, opportunities, and solutions that they found exciting, as the team looks to assure a future that accommodates, supports, and celebrates each aging person. The team noted the need for a massive shift to understand our collective responsibility to care for seniors, and the need to change funding systems for senior living. Workforce development and funding, and reimagining regulation are critical, team members noted. The team will continue to consider these international pieces of inspiration as plans for re-modeled senior care grow. For the next Senior Living Full Court Press meeting on July 27, the team will join the 2021 Patient Safety Fellowship finale, where fellows will present creative solutions to current challenges and problems facing senior residential living and senior care. 

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