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NAVEL. Mrs. Morgan has played NAVEL.

Currently, I’m playing Words With Friends with an 82 year-old woman named Mrs. Morgan. We’ve been playing since the summer of 2017 when I was part of a pilot project looking at how we could help employees take care of their aging loved ones.

And she’s winning.

I met Mrs. Morgan, the mother of one of my co-workers, Chris, when we were in the research phase of our pilot project. We put the call out to employees, looking to speak to them about their experience. Chris was worried about his mother. She lives alone in a Scarborough apartment building located near the nursing home where her husband is currently living with Lewy body dementia. She has high blood pressure, doesn’t exercise, and from what Chris can tell, spends most of her days in front of a blaring TV. He’d been having to leave work to run errands for her and check in. The stress was affecting his job performance.

After getting Chris’ story, I got to work researching easy, affordable solutions for his mother’s particular situation. These were presented to him in phases as things he could action right away, in the medium term, as well as planning for the future. Part of our strategy was to get pilot participants to get into a planning mindset, anticipating the next phase in their loves ones’ care. But first, the things they could do right away. Since we were in pilot phase, we were encouraged to think as outside of the box as we wanted, to test as many solutions as possible.

As the Care Manager assigned to Chris’ case, I listened to what Chris was telling me to uncover his true pain points. One of the things he told me was that he wished to spend more quality time with his mom, instead of just rushing in and out with deliveries. Using project management principles, I helped him set up a simple check-in system to regularly prompt his mother for requests, then distribute duties among her circle of care, based on schedules and locations. This ensured that the responsibilities were being shared between Chris and his extended family in a fair way so that he was not taking the brunt of it.

Along with researching nearby, affordable activities for Mrs. Morgan, the team also came up with some more innovative experiments, such as installing a Google Home voice response system. I volunteered to go over and meet Mrs. Morgan in person, along with Chris, to introduce her to the device and explain how we would be using it to help her to do things like play music, games, add to her shopping list, and call her sons. By remotely monitoring her use, I was able to suggest further ideas to Chris on how to care for his mom.

Sadly, our pilot project got shelved due to business priorities, but not before we were able to make some real differences in our clients’ lives. By the time the pilot ended, Mrs. Morgan had attended a seminar on aging at home, signed up for a chair yoga class, and joined a mall walking group nearby. And Chris? His Instagram feed shows me that he is now spending more quality time with both his mom and his dad together.

Through this project, I realized my passion for helping people care for their loved ones. I recognized that sometimes being one step removed is needed in order to think of innovative ideas and come up with real actionable solutions. I also learned that investing the time to get to know clients up close and personal can result in great returns and inject much needed empathy into solution design. And that sometimes, just lending an ear is the thing people need most.

As for Mrs. Morgan, she just played HOUSED for 44 points. Something tells me I’d better watch out for that one.

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