Lorien Taneytown resident Miss Becky was recently crowned the Queen of Spintopia by Utopia Experiences CEO and Founder Sasha Dawn after a year of excelling at the senior virtual game show. (Lorien Health Services)

When Sasha Dawn was creating the software for the live-hosted virtual interactive game show, Spintopia, she came across a simple idea to market the concept ― which is similar to Wheel of Fortune ― to not only the general public, but elders in senior health communities. It concerned supporting her ill, lonely father during the COVID-19 shutdown.

That interaction inspired a much-needed way for assisted living and nursing home companies, like Columbia-based Lorien Health Services, to not only engage their residents but to facilitate warm (and even competitive) connection with family, friends and neighbors who may be sitting beside them or anywhere else in the world.

Considering her investment in the game of about $250,000 and writing a 250-page request for proposal for it, Dawn, the CEO and founder of Columbia-based Utopia Experiences, 

 is happily excited by her early returns. She emerged from the beta phase of the game by garnering four customers this past January and now has 52 who are in assisted living, dependent living and skilled nursing facilities all over the country, also including Brookdale, in Olney.

Dawn hopes to sign up 500 senior health facilities across the country by the end of the year to license the game, which costs from $49 to $149 per month.

Such success in the senior market hadn’t entered her mind in late 2020, when she was living in Colorado and playing a power point program for kicks with friends. It was around that time that she and her Vietnam veteran father met with the activity director of his nursing home.

“He was having a health issue and we talked about his struggles with loneliness,” etc., she said. “Then the activity director had me, my dad and three other residents play the game ― and everyone felt better to the point that we were all in tears. I didn’t know what I’d done, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.”

What makes Spintopia different and caused such a reaction is its live hosts, she said. “There are other great engagement platforms out there, but we provide human connection in a digital age.”

It’s that human element that appealed to management at Lorien, which operates nine facilities in metropolitan Baltimore; Spintopia is offered at Harmony Hall, in Ellicott City, Taneytown and two others.

At Taneytown, the staff initially “had about 75 percent of our residents in our 52 apartments playing when [Spintopia came to market] a year ago,” said Verna Toms, Lorien’s life enrichment coordinator for assisted living. “That number has dropped about 10 percent, but looks to be moving back up.”

As Dawn found, the pandemic “definitely changed the way we look at senior activities,” said Toms. “It has given our senior population insight into technology, concentration and teamwork. It’s kept them sharper and they can’t wait to play. And know that competitiveness brings them out. They tend to be quite a handful when the four teams of two play at once.”

That emotional reaction to Spintopia wasn’t what Dawn was envisioning when she was looking for help getting the concept started. “When I started seeking mentors, they would always ask me what the product is, who the customer is, what problem I was solving,” etc., she said.

While the game is customizable for seniors and was made for that market, she’s also targeting other sectors to market, such as aging in place, after-school care programs, competitions and others that feature celebrities.

“This game is so needed and so innovative, but so simple,” said Dawn. “I keep asking myself, ‘Why didn’t someone else think of this first?’”