A Place for Mom and Dad: Senior Housing Options

When it’s time to revise your own-or your parents’-living arrangements, it pays to plan ahead. Understand the types of housing options available and how to determine the best fit.

Some retirement communities focus on one type of housing, while others offer a continuum of care, ensuring lifetime nursing care if and when it becomes necessary. We take a look at the different types of senior housing options available today.

Once upon a time, a “retirement home” was synonymous with a nursing home, a place with long, dreary hallways and too-small rooms.

Today, that “old folks home” stereotype is long gone. More than any other time in history, there are more housing options designed specifically for the unique wants and needs of adults age 55 and over—wants and needs like multi-functional spaces, cozy coffee/wine bars, fresh, made-to-order dining choices, craft rooms, fitness centers, organized activities, libraries, and some campuses conveniently offering a continuum of care. It’s like a cruise ship—they can participate as much, or as little, as they choose.

“There are great opportunities to socialize, remain engaged in life, and continue to have purpose [in retirement communities],” says Shirley Barnes, chief executive officer for Crest View Senior Communities, a faith-based nonprofit organization that has served older adults for more than five decades. From senior housing to home care, Crest View offers choices and options to fit every individual need.

There’s also a greater peace of mind for kids, knowing that their parents are in a caring community, surrounded by friends and supported by knowledgeable staff members who want the best for them. “For family members, it’s peace of mind,” says Kelly Spataro, lead housing director, Cerenity Senior Care, offering independent living, assisted living, memory care assisted living, enhanced assisted living, and respite care in the East Metro. “Mom and Dad aren’t isolated. They actually gain independence and are less dependent on you.”

Some retirement communities focus on one type of housing, while others offer a continuum of care, ensuring lifetime nursing care if and when it becomes necessary. Here’s a look at the different types of senior housing options available today:

Independent Living

Independent living communities provide the greatest versatility and freedom in compact, easy-to-maintain, private apartments or homes within a community of seniors. Any housing arrangement designed exclusively for seniors (generally those age 55+; in some cases the age requirement is 62+) may be classified as an independent living community. While you have to be relatively self-sufficient—with few medical problems—to live in an independent living facility, many of these communities offer services and resources to make daily tasks easier. For example, many provide local transportation, social activities, meals, and laundry and cleaning services, and many are located near hospitals and clinics, shopping malls, and recreational facilities.

One form of independent living is a housing cooperative, such as Nokomis Square Cooperative, a nonprofit corporation established in the late 70s by members of the Nokomis area in Minneapolis. Their goal was to provide senior housing in the “neighborhood.” The first members moved into Nokomis Square in 1984.

“The primary distinction between a housing cooperative and other forms of homeownership is that in a housing cooperative, you don’t directly own real estate,” explains Pam Schultz, Nokomis Square Cooperative marketing representative. “You purchase a share or a membership. Your membership entitles you to occupy the apartment or unit of your choice. Your relationship with the cooperative is established by an occupancy agreement or proprietary lease, and every membership has a share in the cooperative and a vote in major decisions and for the board of directors.”

Assisted Living

Assisted living or assisted care communities refer to communities designed for seniors who are no longer able to live on their own safely but don’t require the high level of care provided in a nursing home. Assistance with medications, activities of daily living, meals and housekeeping are routinely provided. Meals are provided in a central dining room. Residents live in private apartments which frequently have a limited kitchen area. Staff is available 24 hours per day for additional safety. A key benefit of an assisted-living community is that, should your loved one’s health deteriorate, services are already in place to provide extra care in that same facility. Most assisted living communities provide licensed nursing services.

Irma Weber, 88 (and a ½), lives in Cerenity Residence – Marian of Saint Paul, a beautiful assisted living apartment in St. Paul (built in 2003). She grew up in Elk River, got married, had eight kids, eventually moved down to Texas to help treat her husband’s ongoing heart issues, then moved back to the Twin Cities—and closer to family—when her husband’s health began deteriorating. Cerenity Senior Care – Marian of Saint Paul offers a full range of housing and care options, allowing Irma and her husband to live together on the campus. “I knew my husband would be well cared for here,” she says. “And he was.”

She loves the amenities that come with living at Cerenity Marian, the beauty shop, the organized outings, the 24-hour staff on-site, the wellness clinics, the fitness classes. She spends her days playing cribbage, 500, and bridge with friends, going to mass, watching Twins games, and going for walks.

“The people here are just so good to us,” she says. “I couldn’t find a nicer place, and that’s the truth.”


Memory Care

If you know someone living with a form of dementia—such as Alzheimer’s disease—you know about the feelings of despair, confusion, loss, and pain that go side-by-side with memory loss.

But even with memory loss, life can still offer many rewards. Certified memory-care facilities go to great lengths to take care of residents struggling with dementia or Alzheimer’s. Many times, residents start out in assisted living and then move to a more secure environment.

After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Mary’s mom moved to The Shores in Duluth, part of the beautiful Ecumen Lakeshore community. At first, Marsha lived in an apartment with assisted living services. She had a kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom, ate all meals in a common lakeside dining area, and socialized with other residents. “She felt like she was part of a family,” Mary says. “Every week she had her nails done, and she often did craft projects or played group games led by the staff. She was also able to attend a church service every week, which was important to her. Since the facility was right on shore of Lake Superior, they often took all the residents on walks near the lake, which was a highlight.”

When it became clear that Mary’s mom needed a more secure environment to meet her changing needs, she moved to Lakeshore’s sister community, Bayshore Health Center, to receive skilled nursing care.
“They provided and coordinated the transfer, which made the process seamless,” Mary says.

Mary and her family have peace of mind knowing her mom is in a memory care neighborhood that provides the right balance of safety, security, and independence; a warm, welcoming, vibrant environment that feels like “home.”

Skilled Nursing Care

Twenty-four hour skilled nursing services are available from licensed nurses. Many nursing homes also now provide short-term rehabilitative stays for those recovering from an injury, illness, or surgery. Long-term care residents generally have high care needs and complex medical conditions that require routine skilled nursing services. Residents typically share a room and are served meals in a central dining area unless they are too ill to participate. Activities are available. Some facilities have a separate unit for Alzheimer’s residents.

Residential Care Homes

Residential care homes typically serve residents who live together and receive care from live-in caretakers. These homes offer assisted care services for seniors who want a more private, home-like community. Assistance with activities of daily living, such as bathing and dressing, are provided.  

Home Care

Home care allows people to remain in their homes, while receiving the assistance they need to remain independent. Home care providers come over on a regular basis to help with bathing, dressing, meals, transportation to appointments, companionship, and emotional support. Care plans are created based on circumstances and needs. If the plan changes, the home care provider will try to help the homeowner find the right level of care depending on the medical, social, functional, and financial realities of each individual situation.