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Redefining Wellness
From intergenerational programming to robotic  pet therapy, local senior living facilities provide innovative, life-enriching amenities to residents.


Jan. 2019

Staff, seniors and attendees of the on-site child care center enjoy art time together at Wauwatosa’s Lutheran Home.

Sarah Benforado is not your typical college senior. She lives alone. And her youngest neighbors are in their early 60s.

Benforado is the student artist in residence (SAR) at Eastcastle Place, a senior living community on Milwaukee’s East Side. She receives credit toward her degree at UW-Milwaukee in exchange for room and board and time spent lending her expertise as an artist.

“I plan and facilitate various workshops,” explains the 22-year-old Benforado, who is majoring in jewelry and metalsmithing. “I do the work of integrating myself into the community —  meeting people, building relationships, identifying community assets and building upon those.” Her first workshop, she says, focused on symbols, encouraging independent living residents to design a self-representative symbol from scratch or by combining preexisting symbols. “We started the physical time talking about, ‘What are symbols? What do they mean? Where do we see them in everyday life?’ I didn’t expect people to talk as much as they did, but it was a really interesting conversation,” Benforado adds. “… Everyone sat down and drew some samples. I’m going to take those, scan them, do an image trace and then etch those symbols into rubber so that they can have a stamp. My next workshop is going to be a sketchbook-making workshop so they can design the cover [of the sketchbook] with their stamp.”

The third SAR to live and work at Eastcastle Place, Benforado is integral to the community’s intergenerational programming efforts, wherein young and old interact and share skills and stories.

“I had dinner with a woman who told me that she had to hide a pregnancy or else she would get fired, per company policy,” recalls Benforado. “… Getting to talk with someone who has so much experience and such a different history, it’s totally a symbiotic relationship. It’s wild to think how much I’ve grown since living here, as far as my assumptions and views of the aging community.”

Sarah Benforado and Beverly Good at Eastcastle Place

And gratifying to understand how much Benforado and the other SARs inspire their senior charges in return.

Asked how the SAR program impacts her day-to-day life, Beverly Good, a 90-year-old Eastcastle Place resident, says, “It just brightens your day. [The students] are young and they’re full of energy and ideas of things to do. We’re exposed to things we’ve never done before.”

At the Lutheran Home in Wauwatosa, a senior living community with an on-site child care center, residents regularly mingle with both infants and toddlers. “The kids are going all over the building, all the time,” says Katrina Flower, who coordinates programs for the Lutheran Home’s memory care unit. “... In the same way that your body reacts to stress, whether we remember it or not, our bodies are reacting to that happiness of seeing a child and seeing a little hand holding your hand. And to see that joy. No person — no matter how far they are in their phase of dementia — doesn’t understand what it is when you hear children giggling and see them smile, and see those little ones sitting right [there] in front of you.”

In addition to intergenerational programming, Flower says the Lutheran Home’s memory care unit also uses robotic pet therapy and currently houses a dog and two cats. “We have two babydolls, too, that are very realistic,” she adds. “Sometimes it’s hard for a family member to understand that the man who was the man of the family all their life is holding a [fake] baby when they come in. But what he’s doing is being the father he was, and ... caring for someone else. And it’s safe for everyone, because it’s a doll.”

And while physical safety and cognitive stimulation are top priority when planning elderly enrichment programs, it’s clear that Milwaukee area senior living facilities are continuously working to improve — and innovate — their offerings. Life-plan community St. Camillus, for example, is currently expanding its Wauwatosa independent living facility, and the new addition will include a bistro with display cooking, an art gallery and a wellness center with pool. HarborChase of Shorewood’s Life Enrichment Program boasts more than 20 activities, including an outdoor putting green and culinary classes, and, last summer, West Bend’s Cedar Community hired its first-ever vice president of resident experience, Julie Gabelmann.

Staff, seniors and attendees of the on-site child care center enjoy art time together at Wauwatosa’s Lutheran Home.

New Perspective Senior Living, a company with seven Wisconsin communities and an eighth in the works, is rolling out a senior-centered digital engagement strategy, in which various forms of technology, from tablets to mobile touch screen monitors, are personalized for residents and their families. “Social engagement is critical to a person’s vitality and wellness,” says Doug Anderson, vice president of marketing and communication for New Perspective. “Through our iN2L program, we can now meet everyone’s needs regardless of their interests and ability. We are hearing remarkable stories of increased participation and vitality among our residents because we are meeting their needs and desires where they are.”

“You make it what you make it,” says Good, who has called Eastcastle Place home since 2012, of life in a senior care facility. “... There are people here, I’ve heard them say, ‘I came here to die.’ Well, I came here to live.”


This story ran in the Jan. 2019 issue of: