PROMOTION: All about assisted living options when a loved one can no longer live on his or her own

There are many options for residential facilities

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the number of older Americans (65-plus years) is increasing by the minute. In 2014 they comprised 46.2 million, representing 14.5 percent of the U.S. population. By 2040 seniors are projected to make up 21.7 percent of the population. As these baby boomers retire from full-time careers and become empty nesters, their lifestyles will certainly change. As they age, their health and wellness needs will also change.

Unable or uninterested in living on their own, many will look for a residential senior community–there are many variables to consider. Some have a formal, traditional feel, while others may have a more relaxed, home-like ambiance. Some cater to a particular culture or religious preference. The centers themselves can be towering apartment buildings in urban centers, sprawling complexes in the suburbs, small cottages or more intimate communities catering to a small number. Populations can range from 20 people to hundreds of residents.

These communities offer many different amenities for residents, just as they offer differing levels of health care services. Personal preferences, in addition to an assessment by a medical professional, will help determine the type of community that fits an older person’s needs.

Independent living is perfect for those seniors who are still healthy and active. These residents typically do not need assistance with daily tasks. Instead they are looking to socialize, meet new people, and enjoy their senior years.

Assisted living residents are largely independent, but may need help with personal care such as bathing and dressing. They are mobile, and typically live in a studio or one-bedroom apartment. Their health is generally stable, so they do not need ongoing medical attention. This is a great intermediate step for seniors who need more help than family members can typically provide at home, but who don’t need the continuous medical care.

Nursing home residents are often bedridden. They generally have a single or semi-private room and receive 24-hour assistance from skilled nursing staff.

A Closer Look at Assisted Living
As specified by the Assisted Living Federation of America, assisted living centers should provide seniors with an environment that promotes accessibility, independence, quality of life, dignity, and personal choice. An ideal housing option for those in a transitional stage of aging, residents generally have continuous access to personal care, as well as nutrition and wellness services designed specifically for older adults. In these settings seniors can also enjoy social contact, security, and support while maintaining their independence. Common advantages of assisted living communities include:

Physical Fitness Programs
With the latest in gym equipment, swimming pools, group exercise classes like Tai Chi and Zumba, and personal trainers well acquainted with the needs of older adults, assisted living communities frequently offer opportunities for physical fitness that go far beyond what was available when the resident lived at home.

Social Activities
Living alone can be isolating, particularly after an individual retires, or has trouble driving. Getting out of the house is difficult; seniors lose touch with lifelong friends due to health and mobility problems. Social skills can atrophy if they are not used, causing anxiety when seniors do go out. Without meaningful interaction, the elderly can become withdrawn and even depressed.
In assisted living, residents can easily socialize with peers through planned, structured activities like field trips to museums, zoos, farmers’ markets, shopping trips to local malls and stores, and cultural events both on and off-campus. In common areas seniors may meet for game nights, poker or bridge, movie nights, or special interest groups like scrapbooking or gardening clubs.

A Safe Living Environment
For seniors to be safe in their own homes when their physical health begins to decline, the house itself may need significant modifications, such as shower railings, expanded doorways and bathrooms, or medical alert systems. Assisted living facilities are designed for safety and accessibility. They can also provide immediate help in case of an accident.

Intellectual Stimulation
Recent studies conclude that older adults who remain intellectually engaged throughout their golden years –through reading and study–have healthier brains. This can significantly delay and/or reduce the cognitive effects of aging. To serve this need, many assisted living communities provide a wide range of lifelong learning activities, from computer classes and book clubs to art classes. Many facilities even offer lectures from visiting scholars and other professionals.

Supervised Nutrition
Several factors contribute to the problem of poor nutrition in seniors. Living alone, many may find it unappealing to cook for one, and it’s challenging for family caregivers to monitor whether their loved ones are receiving the necessary nutrients.

Some lack transportation to the grocery store. Appetites can also lessen as we age–either naturally, or due to side effects of various medications. And many people simply don’t like eating alone. They may have trouble following specially prescribed diet restrictions and with less interest in meals, they may indulge in unhealthy, ready-made snack food instead of preparing well balanced meals. They then may eat in front of the TV for company.

For those who like to cook once in a while, many assisted living centers offer kitchenettes, so residents have the option of preparing an occasional meal in their apartments. But in general, communities provide three nutritionally balanced meals, served in a communal environment. They also offer healthy snacks throughout the day. With good company for meals residents generally eat better, keeping them healthier. Dietitians in senior living communities can also design meal plans specifically for those with medical restrictions.

Home Maintenance and Housekeeping
Mowing the lawn, climbing a ladder to change light bulbs, shoveling snow, pulling weeds, vacuuming–caring for a home is a lot of work. As we grow older, routine maintenance becomes more difficult, repairs are delayed, and general housekeeping needs are sometimes overlooked. Living in a senior community, residents are not only assured that their surroundings will be clean and well cared for, they decrease the risk of injury in trying to keep up with these tasks. (To satisfy a green thumb, residents are often invited to adopt a small garden plot.)
Even renters have to be proactive about their homes if something goes wrong. They need to contact a landlord if there are plumbing, electrical, or other problems in their apartment, and often they must follow up on repairs. For homeowners, it can be more complicated because in aging homes there are more systems and appliances that can break down. In assisted living, residents don’t have to worry about repair responsibilities. If something doesn’t work properly, they simply need to alert a caregiver or member of the maintenance staff and the problem will be addressed, at no extra cost. There’s no worry about the senior letting in a stranger to fix a leaky sink, or being taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors and repair people.

When an elderly person begins to struggle with driving, the loss of transportation can be a hardship. Not only are they losing their independence, they must rely on friends and family to shuttle them back and forth to appointments. Fortunately, most assisted living facilities provide transportation services for shopping, routine outings, as well as special appointments.

Help with Activities of Daily Living
Family caregivers are often responsible for assisting with the tasks of daily living for an elderly relative, such as bathing, dressing, general hygiene, ensuring medications are taken on time. In other cases, the family employs a home care aide to assist with these activities. Both of these options can place emotional and financial strain on the family. In contrast, one of the basic cornerstones of assisted living is helping older adults with these activities, so that they can continue to live as independently as possible.

The Company of Furry Friends
Studies have shown that seniors benefit from having a pet in their lives for companionship. Of course, each senior living community has its own policies with specific weight limits and breed restrictions, so it’s important to do your research if you are shopping for a pet-friendly place. Many communities allow birds, fish and dogs and cats that weigh less than 20 pounds.

The Rewards of Independence
Being able to maintain one’s independence is tremendously valuable–and sometimes that requires accepting help from caring professionals. Assisted living gives seniors access to an active and rewarding lifestyle while meeting their specific physical and medical needs.

Patrick Senzig is the assisted living director at Capitol Lakes, a premier Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) dedicated to enriching lives in a vibrant, compassionate and secure environment. “The CCRC concept separates us from others in the field because we provide access to independent living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing and rehabilitation services all on one campus,” Senzig says. “As a result, our residents never have to move should they require long-term care.”

The cornerstone of Capitol Lakes’ programs is assisted living, which offers personalized assistance, supportive services and compassionate care within a CCRC setting. The program provides seniors help with daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, grooming and medication management. “We focus on wellness and keeping residents as independent as possible,” Senzig says. “It’s the assistance seniors need with all of the independence they want.”

Conveniently located in downtown Madison, very close to the Capitol Square and Madison’s first-rate hospitals and physicians, the Capitol Lakes campus also offers many amenities, including a lap swimming pool, warm therapy pool, whirlpool spa, massage therapy, and a wide variety of wellness classes. In addition, it features Grand Hall programs including lectures, presentations, concerts and social events. Capitol Lakes even boasts rotating art exhibits and a variety of dining options for its residents, because, Senzig explains, “People are living longer and desire more choices in their day-to-day activities. We’re happy to provide them.”

For those considering a move to a retirement community, Senzig recommends doing lots of homework and starting the search early. “It’s important to check out several different places to find the best fit for you,” he says. “Ideally, begin the search before the situation becomes an emergency. Get on a waiting list at your community of choice so when the times comes where you need assistance, you will be able to move in shortly thereafter.” He also urged prospective residents to consider a facility that offers skilled nursing and rehabilitation services on campus. “That way you don’t have to move to another community if you need long-term skilled nursing,” he says.

Heidi Stringham, LPN, is the administrator of All Saints Memory Care on Madison’s west side, which completed a large campus expansion last fall. It now offers those ages “55 and better” cottages and condominiums for purchase; independent apartments when people are ready to down-size and get out of home ownership; brand new, service-enhanced apartments that include a noon meal and housekeeping services; a new assisted living residence; a Neighborhood Main Street; and a soon-to-be completed remodeled memory care residence.

“We’re really looking forward to moving into our new memory care residence, slated to open this month,” says Stringham. “The larger space was actually created out of our original assisted living building, which we vacated last summer.” Currently All Saints Neighborhood has 18 memory care studio apartments. The new residence will feature 40 large studio apartments with kitchenettes and divided into two neighborhoods. Each will have its own dining room, spa room and care desk. They will share two activity rooms and a great room.

Stringham says that a highlight of the care provided at All Saints is the around-the-clock professional nurse involvement. “It’s one of the most important things that sets us apart from other senior living providers,” she says. “We have five nurses between our assisted living and memory care buildings, myself included. Our focus is to develop and implement an individualized plan of care for each resident, monitor their health, and stay in close communication with families and other medical providers.”

Another large part of the staff’s job at All Saints is supporting families as their loved ones age.
“The decision to move mom or dad into assisted living or memory care is often very tough,” she says. “So often a move is put off until there’s a crisis. Then everyone is forced to make a quick decision under a lot of stress, and they have to settle for whatever residence has a room available.”

Stringham’s advice to families is to start discussing the next possible chapter of life for a loved one far in advance–long before it’s needed, when the topic isn’t so emotionally charged. “Once you’ve identified a few places that the family member might want to live when they are unable to be on their own, visit those facilities more than once,” she advises. “Stay for a meal or music event and talk with staff and residents. Then ask your loved one which environment would be their top choice. There’s no guarantee that, when the time comes, they’ll be able to move into one of those residences. However, hearing your loved one’s opinions and having those conversations together can be a great gift for future decision-making. It can help strengthen family relationships.”

Kelly DuBois, director of sales and marketing for Attic Angel Comm, loves to talk about the organization’s rich history in the greater Madison area. “We have been around for 128 years,” she says. “Our welcoming community is home to over 300 seniors who are served by 250 staff and 500 volunteer ‘angels.'”

Attic Angel offers the entire continuum of care: 123 independent ranch homes, 74 senior living apartments with services, 56 assisted living apartments, 44 private skilled nursing rooms (providing long-term and short-term rehabilitation options), and 20 memory care suites. All residents receive access to innovative programming and activities for the mind, body and spirit.

DuBois acknowledges that assisted living options have changed significantly over the past few years. “People are choosing to stay in their homes longer than they did in the past,” she says. “When they are ready to seek out services, aging-in-place options are most attractive.”

And since baby boomers are beginning to enter the senior living market, new trends in the field are emerging. “With a greater emphasis on meaningful socialization, we are offering a full menu of enjoyable activities such as yoga, tai chi, exercise classes, game nights, barbecues, book clubs, and organized group outings to theaters, museums and restaurants,” DuBois explains. “Our seniors also appreciate the finer amenities in their living spaces, such as solid-surface counter tops and upgraded fixtures.”

On a personal level, DuBois says that she learns something new from one of the residents at Attic Angel almost daily. “The amazing people in this community have so much knowledge and wisdom,” she says. “We often meet seniors and their families during very stressful points in their lives. And moving is difficult. It is wonderfully rewarding to form a relationship with each family, provide information and education, and watch the new residents bloom once they are here.”

Her advice to families who are looking for an assisted living option is to explore different communities and get a feel for each one before making a decision. “I also encourage the family to be patient with their loved one as he or she moves through the process.” DuBois is thankful that Attic Angel Community is often the first choice for seniors and their families. “I am so fortunate to be able to come to work for an incredible organization who gives so much back to the community,” she says.

Senior living communities have much to offer. The benefits of assisted living range from providing assistance with basic hygiene needs to helping older adults build new friendships. The availability of amenities and services make living in a senior community a healthy choice.