2016 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship Winners Announced

SeniorAdvisor.com Announces 2016 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship Winners

After nearly 700 applicants submitted their essays, three emerged as clear winners in this year’s scholarship program.

SeniorAdvisor.com has announced the winners of their third annual scholarship program for American and Canadian students enrolled in an accredited two-year college or four-year university program. Nearly 700 students applied, and only three were selected to receive the 2016 Future of Assisted Living scholarship award.

SeniorAdvisor.com is North America’s largest ratings and reviews site for assisted living, memory care and home care services in the United States and Canada. The organization launched its annual scholarship program in 2014 aimed at addressing the needs of the ever-growing senior population.  Our goal is to bring awareness to younger generations of the numerous challenges senior care presents, and in return we want to assist with the costs of higher education for the recipients with a monetary scholarship that can be used to mitigate costs of books and tuition expenses.

Winners were chosen based on their essay response to the question, “How can your major of study improve the lives of seniors in assisted living facilities in your town?” Three students were selected to receive the $2,000 Assisted Living Scholarship award.

The winners of SeniorAdvisor.com’s 2016 Future of Assisted Living Scholarship were Christina Pan, Katerine Gratton and Crystal Schaeffer. Ms. Pan is a computer science major at Stanford University focusing on artificial intelligence and has personal experience as an emergency service provider for senior citizens.  Her essay focused on the impact that AI can have for seniors at assisted living facilities by monitoring critical health signals as well as accidents remotely and alerting staff.  Ms. Gratton studies music at the University of Ottawa.  Her approach of using music therapy to combat the prevalent issue of depression among seniors was a unique approach that could scale to almost any assisted living facility.  Ms. Schaeffer passion for occupational therapy and her studies at Saint Catherine University have helped her discover the healing impact of occupational therapy for seniors.

The winning essays are included below. Eligible students are encouraged to apply for the 2017 scholarship program now.


Assisted Living Scholarship Essay by Christina Pan:

Famed tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen once said, “Software is eating the world.” In other words, software is rapidly changing the world for the better. As a Stanford student majoring in computer science, I have seen this happen before my very eyes, especially within the rapidly growing subfield of artificial intelligence (AI). For instance, an AI program demystifying medical reports has fostered better communication between doctors and patients. This type of revolutionary change has even extended to assisted living facilities. In fact, AI will help seniors in assisted living lead happier and healthier lives by providing more effective personalized care. This personalization comes in two main flavors: personalized medical treatment and daily living activities.

In seniors’ medical treatment, one way AI will help improve seniors’ lives is by helping prevent possible health issues. Many popular electronics, like smart phones or smart watches, have sensors that can gather health information, such as blood pressure or blood sugar. Through tracking the trend of this data, doctors will be able to proactively act to prevent issues like strokes or diabetes.

The doctors’ preventative efforts will also be more effectively realized with AI-enhanced medicine dispensers that ensure that seniors take their medication as prescribed. These dispensers will be able to remind seniors to take their pills, if they forget, and prevent seniors from taking the incorrect prescriptions. Along with prevention and effective treatment, AI technologies will also be able to immediately get seniors help when there is an emergency. This can be for events ranging from falls to fires. Falls, in particular, are a common hazard with significant consequences, as, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in three seniors fall each year.

In working at an emergency call system provider, providing an immediate response to emergencies like falls, prevents complications and lowers potential costs. In addition, seniors really want to maintain their independence and will often shrug off a fall. For instance, one senior had a fall and felt fine, but was convinced by the emergency services to get a check up in the hospital. At the hospital, the senior discovered that she had broken her hip during the fall. Consequently, by utilizing AI technologies to detect an emergency and automatically obtain outsider help, AI will help seniors live in safety and have the peace of mind that they will be safe no matter the situation.

On top of all the health benefits AI-enhanced technology can provide to seniors, AI can personalize other aspects of seniors’ lives in assisted living facilities. For  instance, AI applications can learn about seniors’ food preferences – such as a preference for crunchy foods – and suggest meal plans to assisted living providers that will keep the senior both healthy and happy. In addition, AI technologies can create profiles of what seniors like doing and group people who like similar activities, such as bingo or singing, together.

Ultimately, AI, a rapidly growing subfield of computer science, will help seniors in assisted living facilities stay happy and healthy while maintaining their sense of autonomy. As many of these technologies are currently in development, I aim to help develop these technologies with a particular emphasis on seniors in assisted living. In addition, since these technologies will ultimately end up in different platforms, I also aim to help create an integrator that will merge all the information obtained from the various sources into one cohesive platform to help both healthcare and assisted living providers obtain the most information to give the best and most effective personalized care to seniors.


More Music Means Less Depression: An Analysis of How Music Can Increase Quality of Life in Assisted Living Facilities in Orleans. By Katherine Gratton

Though today’s society seems more concerned with younger suicide cases, older ones are just as prevalent – if not more so. In the United States alone, the suicide rate among men 65 years or older is 30 per 100,000, whereas the rate is only 7 per 100,000 among men under 25.1 As people age, they will likely need to live in assisted living facilities, or ALF’s, somewhere in their lifetime; and among ALF residents, depression – one of the leading causes of suicide – is common.2 Thus, the suicide risk among ALF residents is likely high. Clearly, in order for the suicide risk among ALF seniors in Orleans, Ontario to be low, steps must be taken to keep depression low and quality of life high for these seniors. One way in which they can experience a greater quality of life is through music. Music helps lessen depressive symptoms in ALF residents through its pleasant, social, and therapeutic aspects.

Given the right atmosphere, music can often be considered pleasant, and pleasant events create a better quality of life for ALF residents. A study examined the reactions to the intervention of pleasant events in the lives of 15 ALF-residing seniors from Detroit, Michigan.The 15 participants were generally mildly depressed pre-intervention; however, after the intervention, the average depressed mood improved dramatically, as did the average overall mood.4 This suggests a strong correlation between these two moods.5 Thus, allowing ALF residents to continually experience pleasant events can help to improve the overall mood of ALF residents. With this in mind, staff of ALF’s in Orleans should question residents on their preferences of types of music, as well as other factors that might make a musical event more pleasant for them, such as location,  presence of food, etc. Then, staff should plan events according to the results. In this way, the residents will likely achieve maximum pleasure in these planned musical events, causing a greater overall mood for them.

Moreover, the right circumstances can give music a social aspect, and social engagement is particularly beneficial to ALF residents who are functionally challenged. In another study, 150 residents of 17 ALF’s in Hillsborough County, Florida, were examined in terms of their state of depression, functional stability, and frequency in social engagement.6 It was shown that functional disability negatively impacts social engagement; furthermore, both low social engagement and high functional  disability increase depression.7 Clearly, ALF staff need to carefully consider ways in which functionally disabled ALF residents can socialize regularly with others.8 One of the ways in which this can happen is through music. If musicians performing in events within ALF’s in Orleans engage in conversation with the residents through events such as audience requests and/or sing-alongs, their mood will most likely improve. Of course, the pleasant aspect of these events must also be kept in mind to allow the residents to willingly engage in conversation, since a higher level of social engagement likely leads to a decrease in depression and an increase in quality living.

Further, personalized music therapy provides another way for ALF seniors to reduce their depressive symptoms. Recently, a personalized music therapy program was implemented among 17 ALF residents from Durham, North Carolina.9 For this program, 822 logs were recorded, each with a description of pre-therapy mood and post-therapy response.10 76 cases indicated a depressed/withdrawn mood before therapy, 91 indicated an anxious/agitated mood, and 575 indicated a normal mood.11 80 cases refused treatment.12 Of the 742 other cases, 461 – over half – reported a better mood post-therapy.13 Therefore, personalized music therapy was overall able to increase the mood of ALF residents in Durham – and similar results are likely to occur in Orleans, Ontario, if personalized music therapy programs geared towards the preferences of the residents are established there.     Suicide rates are alarmingly high among ALF seniors compared to younger people, and one of the main causes of this is depression. Fortunately, though, music can eliminate symptoms of depression in ALF seniors in several ways. Allowing musical events to be catered to the pleasure of the residents, adding more musical events within the facility that involve social interaction, and creating personalized music therapy programs within the facility are just some of the ways in which music can decrease depression and increase quality living among ALF seniors. If such music programs were to be established in ALF’s in Orleans, perhaps the risk of suicide rates increasing there may be avoided.


Occupational Therapy in Assisted Living Facilities by Crystal Schaeffer

Baby boomers. Medicare. Alzheimer’s disease. Parkinson’s disease. These words undoubtedly painted a picture of a senior citizen in your mind; perhaps someone close to you. But these seniors are more than just labels. They are human beings. They bleed, they laugh, they cry; just like every human being. Above all, they value their independence. When a senior moves into an assisted living facility, it may be by their own will, or by recommendation from family and medical teams. Moving into an assisted living facility can be a very frightening time. They may also feel angry, wretched, exultant, or indifferent. These new feelings, coupled with a brand new environment and way of living, can send seniors into a downward spiral; filled with depression and even more feelings of insignificance. This can easily lead to chronic illness and a life without meaningful activities and independence. Enter occupational therapy.

In an assisted living facility, residents get help with voluminous needs. These needs can range anywhere from dressing to mobility. Assistance may also be magnified when living in a rural area where destinations may be few and far between; where public transportation may be limited and where the facility may be short staffed. With the help of occupational therapy, the dependency seniors have on staff can greatly decrease. Residents can feel more confident in their newfound independence in certain areas, thus improving morale. With greater confidence, the rate of depression and chronic illness could rapidly decline, if not disappear entirely. Less depressed and ill residents means content residents; accordingly means happier staff; leading to amplified morale and finally superior service. By having some patients increase independence in certain aspects, staff, which may be in short supply, can focus more on residents who need amplified assistance. But how do we get them there? How do we use activities to increase someone’s independence? How could something as simple as brushing one’s hair have any meaning behind it?

Occupational therapy focuses solely on the patient. No one patient will ever have the same treatment session. Whether they are having trouble with daily activities such as grooming, or they want to get back to gardening, occupational therapy has a place for them. This therapy is critical in keeping one’s independence. Asked what goals they have, we tailor therapy around those goals. If one goal is wanting to be able to get dressed without any help, we gradually build on simple steps of getting dressed; utilizing adaptive equipment as needed; while decreasing the need for assistance. This is true for a goal of getting back to baking cakes or even feeding oneself.  meaningful activities have a beginning, end and independence at its core. Giving the patient a chance to reach a meaningful goal increases this independence, decreases depression and gives the patient a reason to feel needed in their community. In conclusion, occupational therapy in assisted living facilities, especially in rural

In conclusion, occupational therapy in assisted living facilities, especially in rural settings, could greatly improve many aspects of senior residents’ lives. As an OT and OTA, we can help seniors in such a fragile time in their life. We utilize meaningful activities in order for patients to overcome an injury or illness. If complete independence cannot be achieved for any reason, we offer ways to adapt to their new life. By presenting a chance to participate in therapy that centers around them and the things they enjoy doing, senior residents can start building a new life within the facility. Increased independence leads to happier residents and staff. Chronic illness and depression rates drop, leading to superior and less costly service. In this environment, residents and staff flourish. Giving residents meaningful activities means giving back their lives. Giving back their lives means giving them hope. Giving them hope means giving them a reason to live. Nothing should stop an individual from living the life they want to live, even in an assisted living facility.

Congratulations to the winners!

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