Belmont Village Green Hills is among the largest assisted-living facilities in the Nashville area, ranking third on Nashville Business Journal’s List based on gross resident charges in 2020.

They had a few questions for Belmont Village’s founder and CEO, Patricia Will.

How has the pandemic affected senior living and the choices people are making in how and where they age?

Among many lessons learned, the pandemic highlighted the importance of three key factors that promote the well-being of aging seniors: socialization, programming and access to telehealth.

Covid-19 was effective in exposing the dangers that seniors living alone at home face on a daily basis. With the inability to socialize or engage regularly with friends and family, a significant number of aging adults experienced increased feelings of isolation, stress and depression. As the support networks of seniors living at home tend to gradually decrease in size over time, it often results in seniors having limited transportation options and a lack social integration. These inhibiting factions often cause seniors to be increasingly isolated, which can have detrimental effects on their mental health.

Seniors and their families want to enjoy the culturally and amenity-rich options of senior-living communities that promote social engagement in spaces like cinema screening rooms, art ateliers, beauty salons, social lounges, music rooms, dog parks and conference rooms. They want to participate in stimulating community events such as lecture series, art classes, happy hours with live music and engaging competitions like Belmont Village’s recent “Senior Olympics” and “Iron Chef.” As a Belmont Village resident who was recently on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” said, “I’m having more fun now than I did in high school!”

More than ever, we know how vital group participation in activities and programming is in promoting a senior’s cognitive health and supporting their ability to lead fulfilling, purposeful lives. In sharp contrast to those who are aging in the absence of frequent peer engagement, Belmont Village Green Hills residents are able to thrive and maintain [safety] while participating in intellectually-rich resident programming, such as of mindfulness and meditation exercises, writing clinics, gardening, book clubs and outdoor concerts. A common thread amongst these activities is that they bolster camaraderie among residents and staff members alike – even during times when “lockdowns” and rigorous safety and disaster-preparedness measures are in place.

When Covid-19 hit and emergency rooms were either filled or unable to take non-Covid cases, the critical importance of having telemedicine capabilities for our residents became immediately clear. We set out to find the best provider of telemedicine and make this service readily available to our residents. The result of this initiative has become an enormous blessing as the pandemic continues, and will continue to be afterwards.

How are you implementing telehealth into your communities? Belmont Village Senior Living’s Urgent Care Telemedicine program, provided by Tembo Health, offers an innovative alternative to off-site hospital and doctor visits that’s specifically designed for seniors. Since the program’s launch in 2020, Belmont Village has seen a significant reduction in the number of visits to emergency rooms and outside urgent care facilities for participating residents; reducing discomfort, risk and stress for residents and loved ones.

Residents can take advantage of telehealth doctor visits complete with on-site testing, high-tech carts with digital electric cardiograms and stethoscopes, EKGs, diagnostic cameras and more. Operated by our nurses, who are familiar with the residents, the technology itself is astounding.

Seniors and their families have remote access to the nation’s top doctors from any location in the community, including the comfort of a resident’s apartment. Whether telehealth is used for a routine check-up or to diagnose and treat a critical condition, a board-certified physician specializing in emergency and geriatric care will conduct the exam and be able to check lung and heart sounds, ears, throats, wounds and rashes while family members are seamlessly integrated into the evaluation process and course for next steps.

I had a first-hand experience when my father, who is a Belmont Village resident, received telehealth care on the spot and in real time when experiencing heart palpitations. It’s the future of telemedicine, far exceeding the ‘doc in a box’ concept most envision, and while the program is not yet in [our] Nashville community, it will be available in 2022.

How are the baby boomer generation’s technology dependencies changing the design and needs of facilities? Like everyone else, seniors are streaming shows and movies, using Facetime to connect with loved ones and are familiar with social media. Believe it or not, we’ve had to significantly increase the bandwidth of the Wi-Fi of our communities, and our Green Hills community is no exception. In addition to that, Belmont Village Green Hills features a learning center with internet access as well as common areas with high-definition televisions. These technological amenities are important to seniors of this generation, and, naturally, will be for the baby boomers as they join senior-living communities in the next decade or so.

What is the value of local business/community partnerships? Location matters, but so does locale. With many locations to choose from, most seniors don’t want to live in remote locations. They wish to live in vibrant and active areas, but because these areas are already largely populated and developed, it can be hard to find a desirable location to build a community. From a real estate standpoint, community partnerships allow Belmont Village to source high-quality locations where there typically isn’t space and build the community from the ground up. For example, in Nashville, Belmont Village is located in Green Hills, which is down the street from the famous Bluebird Café and just minutes from Vanderbilt University, as well as major hospitals including TriStar Centennial and Saint Thomas Midtown – and is surrounded by upscale dining, shopping and entertainment.

In terms of research, senior-living providers should utilize learnings from teams of specialists from top-tier universities, health care institutions and professional organizations to craft programming that differentiates them from traditional nursing homes. For example, The Raise Your Resilience study emerged from a collaboration with the University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Mather Institute. Seniors utilizing the RYR intervention program experienced an increase in resilience and perception, along with a significant reduction in the level of daily stress by participating in mindfulness, gratitude and value-based activities.

What partnerships do you have with your Nashville facility? We have a close relationship with Vanderbilt University. In particular, we have worked extensively with Sandra Simmons, Ph.D., professor of geriatric medicine, and director at the Vanderbilt Center for Quality Aging for years. In 2012, Dr. Simmons spent a year assessing Belmont Village’s Circle of Friends program for residents with mild to moderate cognitive impairment, focusing on the programs structure, staffing and impact on the progression of memory loss. With Dr. Simmons’ help, we were able to develop our proprietary, award-winning signature program that is active in all of our communities across the country and has been proven to slow the progression of dementia. This innovative approach works by having a wellness model that emphasizes the importance of mental fitness, with daily mental workouts to engage and challenge specific regions of the brain and group activities to encourage socialization – key elements of mental fitness and building confidence.

What are your predictions for senior health for 10 years from now? In the last decade, many large-scale senior health initiatives have been namely focused on fighting heart disease and cancer. If you look at the aging population, who now have the ability to overcome high blood pressure, cancer and heart disease, the results are astounding – and it’s all due to tremendous health care innovation. In the coming decades, the ”Next Frontier” so to speak, is the abatement, if not cure, of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

To learn more about our assisted care facility, call Symphony of Wimberley at (512) 243-5852.