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Residential communities for older adults are designed to meet changing life styles—not just physical or medical needs—but to provide social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual support as well.
The first challenge that many individuals and families face is to sort out the sometimes-confusing terms that describe senior living options and to recognize that those terms are far from interchangeable. Independent Living, for example, refers to apartments for older adults who, while still generally active and independent, would like to be freed from responsibilities such as home maintenance and snow shoveling. They may still choose to do their own cooking, drive their own cars, and come and go as they please.
Assisted Living may begin simply with housekeeping help and reminders about medications, with additional services added as a resident’s needs change. This, over time, may progress to Enhanced Assisted Living, which provides aid with bathing, dressing other personal care, and some limited nursing.
A specialized type of assisted living arrangement, generally called Memory Care, serves individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other types of memory loss. Skilled Nursing can refer to short-term rehabilitation or long-term care.More and more, senior living communities offer a continuum of care, which is a priority for many older adults and their families because it means that, as time passes and a resident’s needs change or increase, he or she can receive additional assistance without having to relocate.
That’s the case at the communities operated by Oakwood Lutheran Senior Ministries: Oakwood Village University Woods on Mineral Point Road and Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge near American Parkway. Both offer a full continuum of care: independent-living apartments with additional services available; assisted living; memory care; short-term rehabilitation; and long-term skilled nursing care.
“It’s important to understand what levels of care are offered before choosing a campus,” says Beth Johnson, Oakwood Village marketing representative. “I have worked with hundreds of families over the years, and it still surprises me that they don’t always ask the basic question of what levels of care can be supported in the community.”
It’s also important to think about what affects your daily enjoyment of life, and to determine whether the community provides those things. Johnson notes that someone who likes being outdoors, for example, would prefer a community with safe, accessible outdoor courtyards, patios, sidewalks and other places to take a stroll, as well as an opportunity to do some gardening. At Oakwood Village University Woods, residents enjoy a nine-acre nature preserve with walking trails. “The Oakwood Village Prairie Ridge community on the east side of town is 18 acres,” says Johnson, “but feels even bigger, situated on a rise with views in every direction.”
For people who enjoy cultural pursuits, the Oakwood Village University Woods campus features the ever-changing Oakwood Art Gallery, along with the Center for Arts and Education, a first-class performing arts center and lecture hall. Both communities also have well-stocked libraries, hobby and craft studios, chapels and exercise rooms.
Residents pursue their interests and also maintain—or even develop—an active social life. “By moving to a retirement community, some people are actually able to visit friends and family more often,” says Johnson. “Most days, we have a constant flow of friends and family coming and going who are spending quality time with residents at the on-site restaurant, a live music event, a walk outdoors, or one of our many, many programs.”
Heritage Senior Living, the largest Wisconsin-based operator of senior living communities, provides full continuum-of-care options at locations across the state. Adrianne Stupar, executive director of Heritage Senior Living’s Monona location, underlines the need to ensure that a senior community will be able to meet changing needs over time. “We have a beautiful building, and people sometimes get distracted by that,” she says, “but it’s important to focus on the level of care that’s available.” In a community that doesn’t offer the continuum of care, she points out, a person might need to move again as their needs increase.
A crucial aspect making for a successful transition to an assisted living community is for a resident “to really feel like they’re at home,” says Stupar. “A community can offer many benefits and services, but most importantly, it should feel like family. The staff should be accessible and willing to help.”
How to know when it’s time to make the transition to assisted living? “That’s one of the hardest decisions a person and their family need to make,” says Stupar. For family members, she notes, the decision is often related to concerns about safety: they may notice that Mom or Dad is forgetting to take medications or is not eating healthy foods. Or there may have been a few falls.
Individuals themselves sometimes make the decision for a different reason. “Some residents come because they want a community atmosphere instead of being at home by themselves,” Stupar says. Loneliness can be a problem for older adults living on their own. “It’s hard for anyone to make new friends,” Stupar says, “but when you’re not driving any more or have lost some mobility, it’s even harder.” Before making the transition, she encourages prospective residents to drop in for a few meals and activities. “It’s an opportunity to find a common bond with other residents,” she says.
According to Melissa O’Connor, administrator and chief operating officer of Home Again Assisted Living, the best time to consider assisted living is before it’s needed. Home Again provides independent living, assisted living and memory care in Columbus, Cambridge, and—new this fall, Waunakee. It’s a challenge, says O’Connor, but older adults and their families should ideally have the conversation about a move, “a year or so before it’s in the cards.” That allows time to consider all the options, says O’Connor: “Do I want to live by my daughter, or do I want to be in the town where I’ve lived all my life?”
Moving can be hard at any age, but people are more likely to be pleased with their new living arrangements if they feel it was their own choice and one made before it became imperative. “You don’t want to wait until there’s a reactive situation,” says O’Connor, “and you just have to take what’s available.”
People can move in when they’re still independent and not really needing services. At first, for example, they might just want some help with housekeeping. “But as people start to change and get older, they might not want to do as much…and that’s when we would step in and offer assistance,” O’Connor says. Thus, each resident has his or her own personal care service plan, depending on ability and desire for settings and support.
After moving to assisted living, people often become much more social, O’Connor observes. “Instead of being isolated, perhaps living alone on a farm, they become part of a community—one they’ve built.” A contributing factor to a successful transition can be living as part of the surrounding neighborhood. With locations in smaller cities, Home Again is committed to being an active and integrated part of the communities where it operates—participating in local fundraisers, for example, and always hiring locally. “It’s important to us to support the local community,” says O’Connor. “After all, they support us by entrusting us with their most precious family members.” •
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