Charles De Vilmorin on the Cool Opportunities in Senior Living
Nancy Griffin interviews Charles De Vilmorin, Co-founder & CEO of Linked Senior. Charles has devoted his career to serving older adults through Linked Senior’s resident engagement platform and the #ActivitiesStrong and Old People are Cool initiatives.
Nancy: Please tell us about your background.
Charles: I was born in Paris and raised in France. I was lucky to come to the U.S. because I believed and still believe in the “American Dream.” So, I came to Washington, DC 20 years ago after a career working for the toy company Mattel in marketing and then for consumer electronic companies. When I arrived here, I studied at AU (American University), and I worked in consulting. What brought me into the aging field was my passion for older adults, especially members of my family. I also had close experiences with people living with Alzheimer's. In the end, it was a deep desire to improve the world and especially the aging world.
Nancy: Tell us about starting Linked Senior. How is it different from the other resident platforms?
Charles: When I started, I didn't know anything about healthcare or senior living, so the consulting company I worked with allowed me to do a Master’s Program in Senior Living at Georgetown. For one of my classes, I had to come up with a business plan. I was spending a lot of time in nursing homes researching my thesis, and I saw firsthand what's called “the three plagues of nursing homes—boredom, loneliness, and helplessness—which account for the bulk of suffering. That got me thinking, what can we do? And that's how Linked Senior got started.
It's been a journey and I confess I've learned a lot. I've made mistakes, but in the end, mistakes can give insight into the fundamentals of the industry. We focus on what the Activity Director tries to do every day and that's a huge differentiator from other companies. I hear that from our partners all the time. We’re here to augment what these essential team members do each day.
On a day-to-day basis, we provide evidence-based content to engage anyone regardless of their background or cognitive and physical journey. We offer cool management tools and operational support. We're proud that we have a lot of data to help drive engagement. I like to say that we help senior living operators move away from activities like the old standard Bingo and Bible Study and Birthdays, that are probably not going to address resident preferences, to more meaningful engagement.
Nancy: And you keep creating resources for the senior living industry. Tell us about your initiative Old People Are Cool. Why did you launch it, and what do you hope to accomplish?
Charles: That's one of my favorite questions. Anyone in the aging field is going to encounter some form of ageism. And what is ageism? It is segregation based on age. And as you know, Nancy, ageism is the only accepted segregation today. Our society segregates based on age through our speech and actions in everyday life, whether we know it or not, and most of the time we don't recognize it. Old People are Cool reinforces that aging is a fabulous phase of life and a fundamental part of life.
Essentially, Old People are Cool is about fighting ageism. There is a website https://oldpeopleare.cool/ with a logo wear store. The proceeds from the products go to the Alzheimer’s Association. One of the things we're known for are the Old People are Cool stickers that we pass out at shows. We've given out almost 60,000 of these! I’m proud of this initiative. There's a lot of meaning to it.
Nancy: Engaging older adults seems to me to be a crucial workforce solution. So we need to get over this systemic ageism when it comes to the workforce. Don't you agree?
Charles: Yes, absolutely. The number one reason people are not attracted to our industry is they have a false vision of aging. It stems from a very ageist society unfortunately. Again, we need communication and education.
Nancy: Tell us about the Activities Strong initiative and how you provide Activities Directors tools and resources?
Charles: We started the Activities Strong platform early in the pandemic, April 20, 2020. It was the result of our team sitting down with some of our partners and asking, how can we help? The only thing that mattered to us is how we could give back and support the industry. Since my brother lived in China and many of my family members were in Europe, I had an idea early about what was about to happen with COVID-19 in the US.
Activities Strong has become a huge platform to acknowledge, empower, and educate Activity and Life Enrichment directors. We've developed a lot of tools to enhance activities and life enrichment. Activities Strong offers educational webinars twice a month with experts in the field with a few hundred to more than 1,000 attendees. We host one half-day virtual conference every year, aptly named The Activity Strong Summit. Our fourth annual conference will be on June 20th. We continue to bring the best of the best when it comes to engagement.
Historically, our industry has not considered “Activities Director” a serious title. They are limited because they don't get the opportunity to collaborate with other departments. I know one community with one activity director for 90+ residents—there's just no way that person can do the job. Going forward, I see potential for the position of Chief Engagement Officer.
Nancy: Tell us about Linked Senior and how the technology ties in with broader trends that you're seeing within aging services?
Charles: Getting back to the data component, all the departments of the community should operate within some form of data structure. Historically, the only metric captured in activities reports is minutes of resident activity, but it begs the question of what happens in these minutes. Linked Senior helps activities directors create a canvas—we collect resident data, help plan programs and deliver them through our platform.
In real time, we can tell you who's been engaged, and by whom, and drive these key performance indicators. A couple weeks ago we released the first benchmark study in the senior living industry for these data points. In 2022, the average senior living community provided 26 minutes of activities per resident per day.
The broad trends will continue to use data to drive performance and improve benchmarks, but obviously I'm biased. I believe the senior living industry is one of the most exciting. It's one of the only industries where you not only get to change the lives of people, but also change your own future life.
Nancy: Are there any other broad trends you want to share that will influence senior living community or the aging services market at large?
Charles: One of the trends that inspires me is that funding mechanisms are shifting. There are payment models within the Medicare and Medicaid Advantage Plans that are considering reimbursing new supplements and that's exciting. There's also a greater sense of collaboration.
Nancy: What gets you personally excited these days?
Charles: What really excites me and brings me joy and happiness is working with my team. We're fortunate to have passionate people in Linked Senior, but I also love working with Activity Directors. We consider them an extension to our team, and through them we get to improve the life of elders. There are such cool opportunities in senior living. I simply love the industry.
Nancy: It shows Charles! thank you for all you do to improve the lives of older adults.