Mather Launches New Wellness Model for Seniors, Aiming for Widespread Industry Adoption


An influential retirement home provider and research organization are launching a new model of wellness, with hopes the approach will gain traction across the industry and attract and better serve a rising generation of seniors.

The “Person-Centered Model of Wellbeing” was developed by Mather, a non-profit, non-denominational organization based near Chicago in Evanston, Illinois. Mather manages living plan communities in Evanston and Tucson, Arizona, as well as an independent living community on Chicago’s North Shore. Mather is also in the process of developing The Mather, a high rise living plan community in the Washington, DC Metro Market. The Person-Centered Well-Being Framework was created through collaborative work with the Mather Institute, which conducts service-oriented research in the living and aging of older adults.

“Thinking of new programs for our existing communities, as well as for The Mather in Tysons…

The model proposed by Mather is explained in a new report and underpins the evolutionary approach to organizational well-being, dubbed ContinuWell.

Rethinking the 6 dimensions of well-being

Providers of senior housing have increasingly focused on promoting the well-being of their residents, with the goal of improving and prolonging their lives rather than dealing primarily with their health. Many factors have driven this change, including new consumer expectations and changes to the U.S. healthcare system to push for more preventative and coordinated services among older adult populations.

A 1970s framework, dubbed the Six Dimensions of Wellbeing, has grown in popularity among senior residence service providers. As part of this model, providers have created programs and initiatives to promote the emotional, professional, physical, social, intellectual and spiritual well-being of residents.

We define wellness as the process of making behaviors and decisions that allow people to reach their full potential.

The Person-Centered Model of Wellbeing Report

This six-dimensional model has proven to be effective for senior housing providers, residents and society at large, Leary acknowledged.

However, by working with older people, reviewing the latest wellness research, and assessing market dynamics, Mather’s management came to believe that a new approach was needed.

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“I don’t think people intend the six-dimensional model to be prescriptive, but I think it can be interpreted as ‘more is better’ in all dimensions – it may not match personalities and people’s individual priorities, ”Dr Catherine O’Brien, vice president and director of the Mather Institute, told SHN.

The potential normative character and the lack of personalization of the six-dimensional approach are becoming increasingly evident and problematic, given the trends in society. Mather’s report articulates the problem through a question:

“In an age when virtually everything around us can be personalized, shouldn’t our wellness plan be too? “

The 3 Aces

About a year ago, conversations between Mather leaders evolved into a more formal effort to create a new model of wellness.

Researchers at the Mather Institute looked at the academic literature, studied existing patterns of well-being, and reviewed their own work on the topic, including results from the ongoing Age Well study, which annually surveys a large group of communities of life plans.

The resulting model recognizes that well-being behaviors are influenced by individual factors – for example, the personality of an older person – but also by people’s living environments, communities and other external forces.

Source: The People-Centered Model of Wellbeing Report

At the individual level, researchers focused on three key factors of well-being derived from a psychological model known as the theory of self-determination. As explained in the Mather report, these “3 A’s” are:

Autonomy: the need of an individual to have power over their decisions and behaviors

Success: the need to demonstrate competence and mastery of one’s environment – which one learns and develops while taking actions that lead to the desired results

Affiliation: the need to have close relationships and meaningful interactions with others

A premise of the person-centered model is that providers of senior housing services can more effectively promote the well-being of residents by tailoring their programs and initiatives to meet the 3A’s.

Beyond individual factors promoting well-being, elderly care providers may also be mindful of organizational-level factors such as policies, procedures and physical facility.

And although providers may have limited control over the community and society as a whole, they can and should forge links with institutions and organizations beyond their walls or campuses, and participate in activities that positively influence societal forces related to well-being, such as ageism.

Implement the person-centered model

O’Brien and Leary expect senior housing service providers to find various ways to implement the person-centered model in light of their operational structures and goals. But Mather’s own approach is an example of how these principles are put into practice.

Mather created a guide for teams to help them implement the new model under the ContinuWell umbrella, Leary said. Part of this process involves thinking more creatively about what constitutes a wellness program; she cited the “forest bath” shinrin-yoku, in which residents walk to the Chicago Botanical Garden and spend time under evergreen trees. The practice has been shown to “calm the body and stimulate the nervous system,” she said.

When implementing this program, Mather explained the principles and potential benefits and left it up to residents to participate, which promotes their independence. If they participate and gain from it, it can lead to a sense of accomplishment. And the activity is done with others and in a framework outside the community of the life project, favoring affiliation.

As this example shows, meeting the 3 As is not necessarily complicated; Simply offering programs at different times of the day and for different skill levels is one way to create more autonomy and success, the report notes. And membership can be increased with simple steps such as arranging chairs in circles rather than rows at events or activities.

However, more sophisticated strategies are needed to achieve more complex or more difficult wellness goals, and tailoring wellness to each individual’s personality and goals is potentially more laborious than current wellness practices.

“We recently shared this program with a group of providers, and a small provider expressed concern about having the resources to implement a personalized approach to wellness,” Leary said. “But others in the room said this is the wave of the future and you have to find a way to make it work because that’s what the next generation of seniors wants. And we have to make it happen.

Leary herself has seen evidence that this approach to wellness is indeed a future imperative. The developing Mather Life Plan community attracts younger consumers and baby boomers, and they have high expectations of how the community will support their well-being. Mather is introducing new types of online programs that these future residents can participate in, such as lunch and learns about gut health and the benefits of drinking and cooking with tea.

Mather aims to support the efforts of other providers to adopt the new person-centered model of well-being, including the creation of a well-being assessment tool. And, providers can contact Mather about participating in a wellness coaching initiative with Virginia Tech and Wake Forest University. These coaches could play an important role in working with residents on personalized wellness plans.

If the past is any indication, Mather’s model will spark industry-wide interest; the organization has a reputation for innovation and has been a driving force behind the effort to change the terminology from “continuing care retirement community” to “life plan community”.

Already, Mather is meeting with suppliers and working through the Novare consortium to disseminate information and test approaches for this new model.

“We hope this will take off, as we believe it will benefit not only the people we serve, but also the staff who work for providers, and hopefully further drive the industry in terms of benefits for providers. seniors, ”Leary said.


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