Wellness Coordinator helps to improve quality of care in Memory Care

Occupational therapist helps those with dementia by adapting environments and tailoring care, to maximize independence and well-being.

“Wellness Coordinator” sounds like a very broad job description, but in reality, it’s a very precise and effective tool when it comes to improving life in a memory care setting. “Improving life” sounds like a huge job, but when you hear Megan talk about it, you learn that it is done slowly, interaction by interaction, in a creative and compassionate way.

Megan Grunerud, state certified occupational therapist, is the new Wellness Coordinator serving residents, families and staff at Cherrywood Pointe of Minnetonka and Cherrywood Pointe of Plymouth.

Megan’s expertise is in finding creative solutions to functional problems. “As we age, there can be many different conditions that we’re dealing with – low vision, mobility issues, cognitive changes – my role is to find ways to adapt a person’s environment to help them function at their highest ability,” she says. The person’s environment maybe be their physical environment, but it also includes the other people they encounter. In a memory care setting, this often means the care staff that provide residents assistance throughout the day.

As an occupational therapist and an Independent Certified Coach with Positive Approach® to Care, Megan is well-equipped to coach caregivers on physical approaches and communication strategies, to create more successful outcomes and relationships with people living with dementia.

For example, Megan explains, “someone in a moderate stage of dementia, who has lost some of their language skills, is much more reliant on their other senses like their vision or sense of touch to get information. If a caregiver comes in a resident’s apartment to help with personal care and uses all the resident’s senses to communicate, the overall interaction will be successful. We want a caregiver to get the resident’s visual attention first, then tell them what’s going to happen before providing physical touch. If we can make a connection with someone first, before we try to accomplish our task, we can have better experiences for residents and staff. The reality is, we are adapting ourselves to be better for our residents.”

In addition to coaching staff, Megan can teach these approaches to residents’ family members through education sessions, in support groups, in care conferences and family nights.

Along with coaching staff on communication approaches and supporting family members, Megan will also be:

  • Overseeing the implementation of Ebenezer’s Dimensions Program® which involves cognitive assessments and tailoring approaches based on each resident’s needs.
  • Collaborating with the Ebenezer nursing team on care planning.
  • Collaborating with the Fairview Home Care team to implement recommendations that have been made for specific residents.
  • Collaborating with the activities staff to design programming around residents’ abilities.

New programming that has already been implemented seems simple, but is making a big difference. It involves hand washing after each meal with warm wash cloths and essential oil. “We use citrus in the morning and peppermint or eucalyptus in the afternoon to energize and focus, and then lavender in the evening for its calming effects. It sounds so simple, but residents and families are loving it.” Megan explains the thinking behind the activity. “The essential oils and warmth of the cloths provide comfort and contribute to overall well-being, but it is also an opportunity to cleanse hands after a meal, and it’s providing a great customer service. It’s like the service you would get at a steak house, but we are keeping in mind the sensory system of a person living with dementia. Our olfactory senses are in the oldest part of our brain.”

Megan will also be taking residents’ baseline measurements on strength, mobility, nutrition and participation in daily cares to track progress and measure success.

“The number of people needing memory care is continuing to grow, and we need to be prepared,” says Megan. The Wellness Coordinator position at Cherrywood Pointe of Minnetonka and Cherrywood Pointe of Plymouth will help with that. “We’re just going to make the good things that that we’re already doing even better.”

Megan Grunerud is a state certified occupational therapist. She has a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences and master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth. She is also an Independent Certified Coach with Teepa Snow’s organization, Positive Approach® to Care. Prior to her time at Cherrywood Pointe, she worked with Fairview Home Care and Hospice, and practiced occupational therapy in hospital and clinic settings.