When Angie Larrabee walked into Highgate Senior Living headquarters for her first day on the job in 2012, she knew she had found the right fit.
As the manager for Life Enhancement Programming — commonly known as the activities program at other senior living communities — Larrabee’s job isn’t to plan activities and programs that keep residents busy. Her job is to get to know each resident’s life story and to build an ever-evolving Life Enhancement Program that empowers them to live a life of purpose each day.
This Purposeful Living philosophy dates back to when Highgate’s first community opened nearly 25 years ago.
“It stemmed from a desire to help our residents live their lives in the ways they always had and were accustomed to,” says Marjorie Todd, Chief Executive Officer. “We wanted purpose in life to remain in place once they moved into a senior housing environment because we knew how much this means to people. This commitment to Purposeful Living is what helped to create our mission and our vision statements, and it serves as the fundamental platform for what we do and believe in.”
What does “Purposeful Living” really mean for Highgate residents? How does Highgate deliver on this commitment to support residents in living meaningful and fulfilling lives? What might you see in facilities that don’t adopt this same approach?
Here is a behind-the-scenes look at Highgate’s Purposeful Living philosophy and why the best senior living communities don’t just slap Bingo and board games on the activities calendar — they get to know their residents and tailor programming to their interests and passions.
“This is their home. This is their life.”
Life purpose throughout the adult years is often defined by relationships and responsibilities. A responsibility to raise your children to be outstanding adults. A responsibility to build a successful career and retire feeling like you contributed to the company you invested hours of time energy and effort into. A responsibility to nurture and continually grow your relationship with your significant other.
After having grown, successful adult children, many years of retirement under your belt, and sometimes the passing of a spouse leads many aging adults to ask the question, “What is my life’s purpose now?”
Highgate team members and care partners recognize that a big part of their jobs is to help residents reconnect with what makes them feel valuable and important and needed.
“Our teams go out of their way to find jobs and projects that meet the residents’ interests for them to help out,” Larrabee says. “Our teams take the time to create a solid connection with the residents. We have conversations and discover what their interests and goals are now as well as what they used to enjoy doing in the past.”
For example, there is Highgate at Yakima resident who used to work around her house and just wants to stay busy all day. To help her find the purpose she’s seeking, Highgate team members connected her with one of the housekeepers.
“She folds laundry and napkins, dusts, and even visits with other residents while their homes are getting cleaned,” Larrabee says. “Assistant housekeeper is her unofficial job. That is her purpose. She just wants to stay busy. It just happens that she feels comfortable in that environment. So that’s where they geared her tasks.”
Another example: Other residents enjoy party planning, so they give input about the next family night and help in the planning process for other activities and events. What do you think of this decor? Do you like this one or that one?
Purposeful Living can also look like a resident being a greeter in the lobby, helping other residents with a project, participating in the activities programs that are offered throughout the day, and having the time to work on their own things that they are passionate about.
Each Highgate community also hosts monthly activity planning meetings where the Life Enhancement Team asks residents about what they want to do, what they don’t like, and what should be changed.
“We’re constantly monitoring what they want to do,” Larrabee says. “This assists our Life Enhancement Teams in creating a program of activities that fit the current likes and interests of our current residents. Our program is ever-changing and evolving to meet our current residents’ needs and wants.”
“This is their home,” Larrabee adds. “This is their life.”
“There’s meaning to everything we do.”
The Purposeful Living philosophy extends to Highgate’s memory care communities as well.
“Staying active and engaged is important for someone with dementia,” says Katrina Custodio, the Life Enhancement Coordinator at Highgate at Temecula. “It’s about quality of life. When someone has a purpose, it gives the individual a sense of self-worth.”
For example, at Highgate at Yakima, the residents wanted to do something philanthropic, so Larrabee planned a Purposeful Living project that both assisted living and memory care residents could participate in — creating colorful fleece blankets for local nonprofits.
“We made blankets to donate to our local Union Gospel Mission and Rod’s House, a place for homeless teens to come and get supplies needed,” Larrabee says. “The residents really enjoy participating because they know the ‘why’ behind it. It gives them a purpose.”
Other Highgate communities creating Blessing Bags, care packages that contain snacks, travel-size toiletries, socks, bottled water, grooming supplies, and other items that people who are experiencing homelessness need.
“Both Cottage and Manor residents can participate in making these bags, and then we’ll deliver them to the Gospel Mission,” Larrabee says. “The team members love getting involved as well. They like to feel like they’re giving back with our residents. We are a family. We like having fun together. It’s not always task-oriented. There’s meaning to everything we do.”
“We are supported by a good budget.”
This Purposeful Living is instilled in team members from Day One.
“We try to hire like-minded people,” Larrabee says. “Prospective team members go through many interviews to make sure it’s the right fit before they even step foot on the floor.”
But Larrabee knows that’s not the case at every senior living community.
“I’ve been part of an activity directors’ group in the past with the other communities and facilities in the local areas where we share what we do and what we don’t do with one another,” Larrabee says. “Let me just say I was providing them with a lot more tools than I was getting back from them. Their upper management doesn't understand how important it is for a resident to have a life of purpose and meaningful activities.”
At senior living communities that don’t have a Life Enhancement Program or Purposeful Living philosophy, you can see the difference.
“You have residents sitting around bored,” Larrabee says. “They don’t have anything specific to do. You find, in a lot of other facilities, that boredom will cause a lot of issues, such as isolation. That is a great way for someone to not have the quality of life as they need. In these other facilities, they are just left by themselves. They are not getting checked on. You’ll see them decline so much faster. These residents could have lived longer, happier lives by having that purpose and meaning.”
“Highgate seems like we’re so ahead of the game,” she adds. “We are supported by a good budget so we can do these activities with our residents.”
Thanks to Highgate’s Purposeful Living philosophy, residents — no matter what age or what ailment — are supported in living meaningful and fulfilling lives.
To learn more about Highgate’s three other core philosophies, download Each Day to the Fullest, a guide to Highgate Senior Living’s unique approach to senior care.