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Welcome to our second episode of Mavericks for Senior Living: Challenging The
Way We Age. We are two innovators and entrepreneurs who have huge hearts and passion for our older adults. And we see all kinds of opportunities to improve today’s system for how we age.

In this episode we talk about the journey that many family caregivers take, and why communication and collaboration with the care teams is so crucial. Katherine shares her story and why she’s challenging the way we communicate today.

“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life.”

Zig Ziglar

A well-timed positive word or compliment can change the course of someone’s day.

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Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

Good afternoon! I am Francis LeGasse with Katherine Wells and we are here for our second episode of Mavericks for Senior Living. I am so fortunate and happy to announce we have a fantastic guest and she is my co-podcaster, Katherine Wells.

Katherine: Hi Francis! Good to see you again.

Francis: Hello. It’s great to be here. We’re going to start just getting to know who Katherine is. She brings a lot of creativity and ideas to our senior communities. Let’s find out how she got to this point in her life of wanting to make some huge changes in senior living. So Katherine, tell us a little bit about your family.

Katherine: Well, I have aging parents, no surprise! That’s part of the reason I got into this industry. As a software marketer my entire career, I know how software can make life easier and bring efficiencies to communication and collaboration among teams.

About 10 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When that happened, what I didn’t realize at the time was the slowly over the next 5 years my life would slowly change, but dramatically.

Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity App, Inc.

It started with just calling to check in, and soon that turned into checking in every single day. Then it was talking with my brothers. Hey did you see that dad is having trouble managing his medications? Did you notice that mom couldn’t add the check at the restaurant the other night?

We started to get more and more involved, and pretty soon I was managing most of the details of their daily life. And that’s pretty hard to do when you’re not there. My folks lived about 40 miles away from me so I couldn’t be there every day. I had a full-time job, I have kids at home, I have life commitments. Like everyone else in the ‘sandwich generation.’

In my family, I have three older brothers and I am the youngest and only girl.

The Daughter/Caregiver

Francis: I’m imagining that you became the primary caregiver because you were the only female, is that about right?

Katherine: Yes. And you’ll see in a lot of articles they affectionately call it the “Eldest Daughter” or “Daughter Jane” – the primary female in the family to take the lead role in care taking. A daughter is more often than not the one who steps in to be Power of Attorney and responsibility. To be clear, it’s not always a female! These are very broad generalities based on statistics in the U.S.

Francis: Why do you think that is?

Katherine: In general, I think women have a tendency to be more nurturing. We’re the moms, we’re often the ones taking care of the kids and the household, so it becomes natural to take on taking care of our parents too. I think we think about things a little bit differently than most men do.

Care Team Communication and Transparency

Francis: Tells us a little bit about Serenity App as the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the company. This has really been your way to improve engagement in senior living communities, and I’d say to increase transparency among direct care staff, providers for those communities.

Katherine: Yes, so while I was tending to the details of my parents’ lives, when we decided it was time to transition them into long-term living, it was like going into a black hole. Suddenly I had no insight into what was happening in their daily lives unless I was physically there. Yet I am wholly responsible for every healthcare and financial decision in their lives!

Francis: Interesting!

Katherine: And it’s not the facilities fault. I don’t believe this is on purpose. They are very very busy, they have not had as many family members who want to/need to be involved as many of the women in my generation want to be.

So when I looked at the problem with my background in technology and marketing, I knew there was a better way. I believe this industry is behind in terms of technology. I started researching and talking to industry experts, and what I found is that the tools that are available are good for the back office, but there’s very little in the way of the front office. And by the front office I mean the customer facing, family facing.

Who Is The Customer?

I believe the family is the customer. The resident is a part of the decision for sure, but it’s usually a family decision when someone is transitioned into long-term care. If a family member has Power of Attorney and is responsible for their loved one’s healthcare and finances, then they are the customer.

Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity App, Inc.

I think facilities don’t look at the family as the customer. I think they look at the resident as the customer.

Francis: So do you think you almost have two customers then? The family and the resident? Because obviously you’re providing care to the resident and the care needs to match their needs, but do you also think there’s a quality element that needs to be given to the family?

Katherine: Yes, and that piece is missing! If you think about, and I hope this comes off the way I intend it, if you think about daycare, you don’t just drop your kid off and not wonder if they’re getting good care and what happened during their day. Same thing for our dogs and animals – you know where your dog walked during the day. You get a photo of your dog out walking. If you’re a dog person or a mom, what does that do? It warms our hearts! We go, “oh look, oh that’s so cute!”

And then we may not even know that we had been taking up mental space thinking about our children, and now it’s gone.  And now we can be more productive in our work.

Work Productivity and Caregiving

Francis: Do you think for this sandwich generation then we have lower productivity at work than for some others?

I do believe there’s an impact in productivity at work for those sandwiched between caring for kids and older adults. And employers would tell you the same.

Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity App, Inc.

Francis: So could you make an argument that Serenity help employers increase productivity of their employees in these situations?

Katherine: Absolutely. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but there are a lot of articles and statistics around how employers are grappling with employees who are caregivers to someone in their life. These folks spend a lot of mental energy thinking I need to get home and take care of mom, or I need to take time off to take mom to the dentist, I need to buy dad more supplies, and it becomes this constant kind of churning and if they had a way to have that communication happen, they can take care of it in the moment and focus on work.

Personal Connection & Communication

Francis: Do you think there’s a lack of personal connection sometimes between the caregivers and the family? Like without Serenity, you might get a “mom got a shower” but nothing else. Like is there a lack of empathy and/or personal touch in our communication?

Katherine: I think family wants to feel connected even when they aren’t there. Yes, I think it can feel disconnected to just get a monthly newsletter about the community

Francis: In your experience with your parents what would you say was the most difficult think you had to do?

This is why HIPAA was so important to me. I didn’t know what I could be doing better for my parents. To me that’s part of the collaborative nature of the communication. My goal is to have everyone who is touches that older adult’s life, be it the doctor, the physical therapist, the counselor, the caregivers, the family, the wellness director, the activities director – all on a single platform communicating and collaborating.

Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity App, Inc.

Francis: So if I understand, you can get information from their doctor, information from their facility or wherever they are living, information from the activities coordinator who interact with mom or dad or spouse a lot more, and then also from the direct care staff? And my family members can also put notes or comments in there too?

Katherine: Yes.

Francis: So you can get everyone involved in your loved one’s life communicating together?

Katherine: Yes. And it can be little things that can make a huge difference. For example a caregiver who brings a tray to your loved one may notice that they are eating less. That could be nothing or it could be a physical problem that needs to be addressed. That information needs to be communicated and sometimes family knows more about the situation than anyone else. If that kind of collaboration takes place today, it is sporadic at best.

Final Advice?

Francis: Katherine you’ve had a lot of experience with 10+ years of taking care of your mom and dad. What do you think, looking back now, the most important thing a family member today could know about next steps for mom or dad?

Katherine: Take charge. And that’s a big answer, but in my experience once we transition them to a care facility, we have a moment of relief because we’ve been doing so much. And that’s important! Take that reprieve. Then come back and take charge because no one knows your loved one the way you do.

To be clear, I don’t mean step in and do the work! Engage the team that you have just hired to take care of your loved one! They are professionals. You are going to learn a lot from them and they will learn about your loved one from you. When you’re working together and collaborating, that’s when you increase their quality of life.

Francis: That’s a great note to end on. You and I both agree that quality of care and quality of life are the most important things. And that’s really why we’re doing here. We want to challenge the norm in senior living and we hope that you all continue to listen! Please subscribe to our podcast if you like what we have to say, be on the lookout for our next episode, and please share your ideas and comments with us!

We hope you get a different viewpoint, a different way of thinking, and to start asking some tough questions about how you want to age. Take a look at how your parents are aging and consider what you might want to do differently for them.

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Mavericks of Senior Living is produced by Serenity App, Inc. and Assured Assisted Living. This episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Francis LeGasse. The musical artist is Jason Donnelly. You can subscribe to Mavericks for Senior Living on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on TwitterFacebook, or via email at challenges@mavericksofseniorliving.

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Books We Think You’ll Love

Whether you are a family caregiver or a senior care professional, we found some amazing books that will educate, comfort, and in some cases, share the stark reality of our system for aging in America today. Visit our Books page to see more.