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Senior home finding home on social media

Since 2021, The Fountains Senior Living has been making TikTok videos, starring residents from each of its living areas — independent, assisted and memory care.

BETTENDORF, Iowa — Social media and seniors are two terms typically not used in the same sentence. That is especially true as newer platforms captivate even younger users.

There is one social media platform, though, that caters to a senior's specific environment, and some places just feel like home.

"I can sit in my bed and look at it," Jan Coffenberry told News 8's Josh Lamberty as she looked at family pictures in her bedroom.

Home is where you feel like family.

"Oh my goodness, yes, it's extremely important," Coffenberry said of her family and being able to still visit her younger brother.

Equally as important is the ability to help seniors like Coffenberry feel young.

"I'll be 98 in June," Coffenberry said.

When Coffenberry was born, Calvin Coolidge was president and television had not yet been invented. Social media wasn't even a distant thought.

"I wouldn't have dreamed of that," Coffenberry said.

Coffenberry also never would have dreamed after living at The Fountains Senior Living in Bettendorf for nearly 13 years that she would be starring in TikTok videos created by staff each week.

"I kind of felt like it was an honor to be asked," Coffenberry said.

Recently, Coffenberry starred in a new year's resolution video, in which she walks into the fitness room at The Fountains, looking at others around her much like some people feel when entering a gym for the first time.

"I remember him asking me to do different expressions and I tried to comply," Coffenberry said as she laughs remembering the experience earlier this year.

Coffenberry never thought of this activity as a chore, but rather something she looks forward to doing when asked.

"It makes you feel independent," Coffenberry said of participating in several videos.

"You'd think when you get old people in their 80s and 90s it'd be a dull place. No way," Ray Fairbank said smiling at his experience being part of the TikTok videos in his year living at The Fountains.

Fairbank starred in a remake of the popular corn song video, among other viral internet trends the 96-year-old never thought he'd ever see, much less recreate.

"It energizes me again," Fairbank said.

It also energizes Lifestyle Director David Brand.

"Half the time they don't know what they're getting themselves into but they know it's going to be fun," Brand said.

Brand has been in charge of the TikTok account at The Fountains since it was created in November 2021. He started this job in August of that year and, before this, had never worked a day in senior living.

"I come from a background in entertainment," Brand said. "I’ve worked at summer camps. I worked for Norwegian Cruise Line. And you take, you know, bits and pieces of what’s worked with people."

It's working here, too. As of Sunday, more than 22,000 people are following The Fountains on TikTok, plus the videos receive hundreds, if not thousands, of views. 

"The engagement has been nothing that I would have ever expected in the beginning," Brand said. 

That engagement isn't just happening online. The videos are also helping grow engagement among residents inside The Fountains.

"What we have found is getting involved in social media, getting involved in TikTok, has generated all kinds of community engagement from right here in independent living all the way to our memory care unit."

Some of those videos have gone viral, like the one asking residents what they do not want to see on the Thanksgiving dinner table. After filming, almost six million people have been introduced to "Ham Man."

"We wanted to do something different," Brand said of how he approaches programming for seniors. "We wanted to kind of bridge that generational gap while being safe, while having fun, and creating new memories for the residents."

Those memories are also helping keep residents connected to their families.

"In any given week I have anywhere from 10-15 family members stop me and say, ‘David, I saw my mom on that TikTok video, that was hilarious.’ ‘David, how did you get my dad to be in that video? We love that.’ The grandchildren are watching them. The great-grandchildren are laughing at them. It creates this unbelievable moment now for the whole family that we weren’t really thinking about when we started doing it."

Those moments happen in the places residents are most comfortable, and often in the hallways or after a meal. Dance parties for these seniors are not uncommon when Brand is roaming the halls.

From start to finish, the filming process only takes between 10 and 15 minutes. That, Brand said, is the perfect window for seniors to participate in an activity they may not fully understand.

"You’re not demanding a lot of time and energy from the resident, which I think helps," Brand said.

The right time, right place and right platform now gives these seniors a permanent home.

"If you can infuse life into the residents you’re doing your job here," Brand said.

The videos, for the most part, have been focused on lighter, funnier moments inside The Fountains while the account grew its audience. However, Brand says he and his managers are exploring how the videos can share the more serious side of senior living, like the impacts of dementia and Alzheimer's on both residents and families.

While there is no plan yet for exactly how to do that, it is just as important as the laughter, Brand said. "The open schedules from the talent definitely help me out in my job," he jokes.

You can see all of The Fountains' videos here. Brand tries to post a new video each week.

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