November 2009 Issue
The Right Choice
Retirement communities offer a host of amenities tailored to baby-boomer expectations. Travel opportunities, first-class entertainment rivaling Broadway, a swimming pool, current-events classes.
Today’s senior living communities are a far cry from those of a half-century ago, says Jill Hreben, president and CEO of Otterbein Homes, a nonprofit organization with nine communities throughout the state. Which means, she adds, that as baby boomers plan their next move, they’ll discover choices more wide-ranging than ever before.
“At the moment,” Hreben says, “we are serving the parents of boomers. So we’re already hearing their thoughts on retirement living.”
One thing is clear: As they have throughout their lives, baby boomers march to their own drum.
“Through the years, boomers have never been satisfied with anything their parents have been satisfied with,” explains Hreben. “So we should expect nothing more than profound change.”
That’s especially apparent in today’s stereotypical nursing home. No longer an institution of two-person rooms resembling a hospital setting, they are now vibrant centers of activity committed to ensuring an engaging quality of life. Private bedrooms and bathrooms are becoming standard amenities.
Communal living and dining areas
offer opportunities to socialize with other residents in a homelike atmosphere.
Due to the sheer number of people being served, nursing homes have always adhered to rigid activity and dining schedules. But, says Hreben, that’s not the norm anymore. “The rhythm of life is beginning to revolve around residents rather than a timetable.”
The concept of assisted living is also undergoing modification, says Jean Thompson, executive director of the Ohio Assisted Living Association, a membership organization comprising 325 communities.
Assisted-living programs, says Thompson, are being tailor-made for residents according to their specific needs.
“Unlike previous decades, people who require these services are no longer mainstreamed,” she explains. “For example, special accommodations are being made for those with cognitive impairment. Concentrated programs are being developed to help people retain as much memory as possible in intimate settings that are not overwhelming.”
Since there are more living options today than ever before, Elinor Ginzler, director of livable communities for AARP, says it’s crucial to formulate a plan that will meet your needs.
“There’s a little bit of crystal-ball thinking involved because no one knows what the future will bring,” Ginzler says. But, she adds, health history –– yours as well as that of close family members –– is a good indicator of what might be around the bend for you –– or the loved one you are caring for.
Questions to consider include: How long did my parents live? What kinds of conditions did they experience as they aged? Do certain chronic conditions run in my family?
“It’s also important,” Ginzler says, “to think about whether or not there’s going to come a time when you’ll need assistance with activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing and meal preparation. The answer to that question is going to determine what kind of housing option you choose.”
Planning for the Future
In order to find the ideal community for your needs, Ginzler says, it’s important to understand the array of housing choices available and what they offer. Here’s a sampling:
Also known as “active-adult,” these communities cater to people age 55 and over. Usually, they offer a variety of options –– ranging from single-family homes to townhomes and apartments –– often connected by sidewalks or walking trails. Since the emphasis is on “active,” there’s usually a host of amenities, such as a clubhouse with exercise equipment, a tennis court and/or golf course.
Typically created for residents age 55 and over, the apartments are designed to be accessible, and often include transportation services. Many offer opportunities for recreation and socialization.
A type of neighborhood in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of the community, this housing option offers opportunity for multigenerational interaction and social connection. Residents usually own their own homes and do not pool their income, but they often share the cost of health aides or an on-site health-care provider.
Continuing-Care Retirement Communities:
These facilities feature independent-living apartments and homes, and offer a variety of recreational, cultural and social opportunities. But they also have assisted-living and nursing-level care. In this “continuum-of-care” system, residents usually enter the community at the independent-living level and move to the appropriate level of care as their health needs change.
Providing personal care and support services with daily activities, these communities help people stay as independent as possible. Most assisted-living residences offer apartment-style accommodations. There are also personal-care group homes, which are licensed single-family dwellings. They are designed to offer meals, housekeeping, transportation and some level of security.
These facilities provide skilled nursing care for older adults who need it. Nursing homes have doctors on staff, as well as nursing assistants who provide most of the assistance with activities of daily living. Usually, nurses direct medical monitoring and intervention. Speech, Occupational and physical therapists also work with residents to keep them as strong as possible.
“No matter which option you choose,” says Ginzler, “it’s important to think of it as an extension of the life you or your loved one has been living.
“The goal,” she adds, “is to be content and comfortable while aging gracefully.”
- Visit a number of residences. All communities are not created equal in terms of policy, procedures and level of care.
- Ask staff members how long they’ve been employed at the community. Low turnover is a good sign of quality.
- Be sure you understand the financial obligations involved to live there. Ask for details in writing.
- Take note of the amenities. Are a bank, hair salon, postal center and grocery easily accessible?
- Pay attention to the environment. Do residents have privacy and a sense of independence? Is the
setting attractive with comfortable furniture, good lighting and fresh flowers? How’s the food?
- While touring each community, ask to talk with residents and visiting family members. Their opinions will help you make an informed decision.