Living well in all of life's stages

Most people, if asked, will say they’d like to live a long life — if they can live well. But “living well” can mean different things to different people. The Madison area offers a variety of options for living well in later years.

An important factor for older adults when it comes to living well is the choice of where to live. When it’s time to evaluate new options, understanding the terms for the types of communities and available care can be helpful.

“Independent living” generally describes apartments that free residents from house-related maintenance and that offer nearby activities and conveniences. People who need more daily help can choose “assisted living,” where support may range from light housekeeping to help with personal care. And “continuum of care” is the term for communities that see an individual through all levels of care, including skilled nursing or end-of-life care.

Capitol Lakes

Emily Riordan, wellness director at Capitol Lakes, says the downtown retirement community aims to enrich people’s lives by focusing on six dimensions of overall wellness: physical, emotional, social, vocational, intellectual and spiritual. As a result, Capitol Lakes provides activities and programming for each of these wellness dimensions across a continuum of care that includes independent living apartments, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care.

Many older adults, when they think of wellness, focus on physical ability and activity. Riordan finds that these factors indeed influence the choice of a retirement community. “I often hear from new residents that a huge part of the reason they chose Capitol Lakes is our Aquatic and Wellness Center,” she says.

The center, to which all residents have full access, offers a lap pool as well as a warm-water pool for exercise and therapy. Instructors teach 30 different classes, ranging from low-intensity chair classes to higher-intensity cardiovascular workouts.

In many cases, Riordan says, people recently retired from demanding careers are finally able to be active and focus on wellness. “My job is to help them find the activities that best suit them, and that they will enjoy,” she explains. “We want to help healthy people stay healthy, and we want to help people to keep living independently for as long as they can.”

Many of the varied cultural, social and intellectual activities and programs at Capitol Lakes are spearheaded by the residents themselves. Connie Bakker, president of the residents’ association, explains that the association’s program committee works with the Capitol Lakes activities director to plan a wide variety of activities. She lists a sampling of items on the calendar: meditation, a men’s discussion group, mah-jongg, a trip to Allen Centennial Garden, a woodwind quintet, and a presentation about three people who sailed across the Pacific. “And that’s just Tuesday,” Bakker says.

Musical performances are especially popular. A performance space with exceptional acoustics attracts University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate recitals in April and May. And Capitol Lakes’ central location means that residents can enjoy Madison’s downtown offerings such as Concerts on the Square and Overture Center performances. Transportation can be arranged for those who need or want it, but many prefer to walk. “The city is so walkable,” says Bakker. “That’s one of the joys of living in downtown Madison.”

Attic Angel

At Attic Angel Community, Activities Director Colleen Knudson keeps residents engaged through a variety of familiar and favorite activities as well as new experiences. Part of her job, she says, is to identify the activities that individuals have enjoyed throughout their lives and make it possible for them to continue. But she also promotes trying something new. “Research shows that the more active you are physically and mentally, the healthier you are,” she says. Mental activity — especially if it contains a dose of novelty — can help fend off cognitive decline. Novelty, Riordan says, requires the brain to function in new and different ways. At Attic Angel, novel experiences can range from guest lectures by university professors and researchers, to brain-fitness games led by staff members. They can also leaf to social events with opportunities to meet new people.

Attic Angel maintains four activity calendars tailored to the varying abilities and interests of residents in independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care. The calendars also contain community-based activities such as music performances and holiday celebrations in which everyone can participate together.

In addition, an art studio offers classes where residents can develop or hone skills in painting and drawing, knitting and other needlework, ceramics and a variety of other arts. Experienced artisans can continue to independently enjoy their favorite pursuits, and tailored art therapy techniques can help residents work around physical challenges so they can keep doing what they love.

“Sometimes art classes simply help people feel good,” Knudson says. “Other times, people realize they have an amazing hidden talent.”

When moving into a continuum of care, people sometimes worry that they will no longer be a contributing part of their communities. One solution is to bring people out into the community and to bring the community in. Attic Angel has partnerships with several organizations that provide such opportunities, such as the Lighthouse School and Kids at Heart. “Residents help care for kids who are dropped off for a couple of hours,” says Knudson. Youngsters learn from the residents who, in turn, enjoy time with the children.

The overall goal is for people to stay excited about life and about learning new things. “We want them to continue living a life that they love,” says Knudson.


Sometimes older adults, perhaps after being widowed, living apart from family, or alone on a farm, become very lonely, which can lead to depression. “That’s when people start to fail,” says Melissa O’Connor, administrator and chief operating officer of Home Again Assisted Living.

Social interaction is of incalculable importance to overall wellness, and O’Connor estimates that for as many as a quarter of the people who move into Home Again Assisted Living communities in Cambridge, Columbus and Waunakee, the opportunity for an active social life was the major factor in their decision.

One of the most significant ways that residents interact is through organized activities. “We have an expansive activities program, with three to five activities every day,” says O’Connor, “and people can decide what they want to take part in.”

Residents can also provide feedback regarding activities that are offered. At monthly resident council meetings, people express opinions about what they enjoyed — or didn’t — in the previous month’s calendar and what they’d like in the future. Each location, therefore, has its own calendar and, O’Connor says, its own distinct feel, which reflect the personalities of the residents and the surrounding community. One location has a group whose members are passionate about baking, so they produce baked treats three times a week; at another location, people are more interested in yoga and aromatherapy.

At each location, connections with family, friends and the surrounding community remain paramount. Home Again actively supports the senior centers in the communities where it operates. “These centers are amazing resources for the communities,” says O’Connor.

They are also places that long-time friends of Home Again residents frequent, so interaction with the senior centers can help keep valued friendships strong. In addition, current activity calendars for all Home Again locations are posted online so that friends and family can see what’s scheduled and make plans to join in.

When people make the right choice in moving to assisted living, they should flourish, says O’Connor. Better attention to diet and an improved outlook may show through healthy weight gain or even a reduced need for medication. “And they smile more; they’re engaged. Within 30 days you can see the improvement,” she says.

Heritage Senior Living

“Before moving to a retirement community, people may assume that there will be nothing for them to do, or that the activities will be childish,” says Adrianne Stupar, executive director of Heritage Senior Living’s Monona location. “But here, we go to plays, museums and art exhibits.” Weekly outings may include a trip to Olbrich Gardens, a movie, shopping, a music performance or a local community event.

Heritage Senior Living is the largest Wisconsin-based operator of senior living communities, with locations across the state that offer options for continuum of care, including independent living apartments; assisted living, with moderate care tailored to individual needs; and enhanced assisted living for those who need additional help with personal care but do not require skilled nursing. A memory care community specializes in care for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-loss conditions. At all care levels, the services Heritage offer reflect the five elements of the company’s philosophy of care: independence, individuality, privacy, choice and dignity.

Along with regular outings, residents can choose from an array of activities closer to home, such as exercise classes, music programs, art projects, resident-led card games and walks, or a meeting of the poetry club. A variety of speakers give educational talks at least twice a month. And sometimes people simply get together with friends at the on-site pub. “Assisted living residents are the movers and shakers,” says Stupar. “They really have a lot going on. These are people who want to have a sense of community, instead of being at home by themselves.”

For all community events, Heritage residents’ families are invited to participate. Stupar notes that the Monona campus and its amenities are beautiful and inviting. The hope, she says, is that everyone will feel welcome and will find offerings that interest them.

“It’s not always about the quantity of activities,” says Stupar, “but about how many quality activities we can provide for each person in a day.”

Four Winds

Feelings of isolation and depression in older adults can exacerbate health issues, says Martha Roth, director of The Lodge Assisted Living Community at Four Winds Manor and Lodge. Because Four Winds residents have easy access to a variety of planned activities, they’re encouraged to maintain friendships, form new connections and try new things. And that can improve their wellness in general.

Four Winds Manor and Lodge provides skilled nursing and assisted living options in a quiet residential neighborhood in Verona. “With the recent remodel at Four Winds, we have become much more community based,” says Roth. “That means that all of our levels of care, whether it be in the nursing home or in the memory care unit, are fully involved and engaged with each other.”

Summer provides the opportunity for outdoor activities such as a drive through the Arboretum or a visit to Olbrich Gardens. An annual picnic in the cheerful courtyard at Four Winds brings residents, their families, and staff together for live music, dancing and food. Four Winds also participates each year in the Verona Hometown Days parade. Residents and staff work together to build a float. Then, on parade day, the entire community turns out to watch the festivities.

Regular and weekly activities include music programs, religious services, cake baking, Wii bowling, a book club and the ever-popular bingo.

Roth acknowledges that the decision to move to an assisted living community can be difficult for many people. However, the transition can often have social benefits even beyond the opportunity to make new acquaintances. Older adults who are living independently often rely on family members or friends for help with the activities of daily living, grocery shopping, paying bills, or even emotional support, says Roth. “When someone moves into assisted living, the staff can provide that support,” she says. “Family members can come and visit, not as caregivers, but as family, and that is such an important relationship to have.” —