Contrary to popular belief, seniors who move into senior communities don’t lose their independence, many often even find their abilities improve. Living in a retirement community has benefits of healthy meals, spiritual gratification, worry-free housekeeping, built-in home maintenance, an added sense of safety and security, and the opportunity to try enriching social programs. But the biggest benefit is one of the simplest: spending time with others. The truth is that the vast majority of people need other people. Studies show that older adults who live in a community setting enjoy greater well-being than those who live alone—and that physical and social engagement can actually reverse the effects of aging. Not feeling socially isolated or lonely can have tremendous mental and physical impacts on health. Older adults who move into senior living communities where conversation and social activities are easy to find often say they wish they’d moved sooner.
At Aurora on France in Edina, a new property operated by Ebenezer (and owned by Fairview Health Services), a number of factors were considered to help residents avoid isolation and loneliness.
For instance, when it’s dangerously icy or bitterly cold outside, nurse practitioners, geriatric physicians, and other Fairview specialists make on-site visits at Aurora, says Maureen Maher, marketing and sales consultant. Amenities include a beauty salon and barber shop, movie theater, community room, fireside library, club lounge (with a weekly happy hour), bistro, fitness center, and wellness programs. Residents can sign up for bus outings, card and game groups, or art and music programs, if they choose. “Our residents find that their focus shifts from taking care of a home and chores to living a vibrant lifestyle, having new adventures, and sharing their gifts to make a difference,” says Maher, who adds that volunteerism is a big part of all of the Ebenezer communities.
Forging new friendships, trying new things, and having the opportunity to stay involved can add years to a person’s life, says Shirley Barnes, CEO of Crest View Senior Communities, offering the entire spectrum of housing from senior housing to assisted living to memory care to skilled care services, with locations in Columbia Heights and a new state-of-the-art facility in Blaine.
Crest View, Columbia Heights
photo courtesy of Crest view
“When a person moves into a community, there’s hope for the journey. There is joy. We’re creating new memories,” says Barnes. It’s important to see this move for what it is: A gift. “I tell adult children, ‘You have given the best gift you can give your parents.’ And I say to the parents, ‘You have given your adult children the best gift you can give them.’” When adult kids move their parents into a senior community, they can truly be there when they visit and be present, rather than losing sleep worrying about gut-wreching “what if” scenarios. “There is incredible peace of mind knowing that Mom or Dad have a built-in safety net. They’re not alone.”
Have the conversation now
How do adult children broach the subject of moving when their parents are resistant to the idea? “Better a year or two early than a day or two late,” says Barnes. “Don’t wait for a crisis before starting your research,” echoes Maher. The last thing anyone wants is for a parent to feel like he or she is being forced to move against his or her wishes. The idea of change can be intimidating, but the more time a loved one has to get used to the idea of carefree living in a senior community, the better the transition will be if/when the time comes. Have a conversation about how your parents see themselves living out the rest of their lives while they’re still in good health.
Some organizations and individuals advocate the “70-40 Rule”—when your parent is 70 or older, and you are 40 or older, it’s time to have conversations about aging and the future. Use these conversations as an opportunity to get to know your parents better. Make sure they have adequate time to talk, and make the conversation casual.
According to Brookdale Senior Living, “Be a ‘partner’ not a parent. As a parent you are in charge. You make the rules. You set the agenda. Negotiation is not necessary. As a partner you have a mutual interest and a common goal. The idea that a role reversal takes place in the relationship between you and your parents is neither true nor helpful.
You don’t need to try to get all the answers you want today. You don’t need an answer at all today. You’re laying the groundwork to understand your parent’s feelings, wishes and needs. You want to get information and share information. This will happen little-by-little over time. No need for the high pressure techniques so you can get to a ‘yes’ on the most important questions in the first conversation.”
Types of housing
Independent living provides 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 to live in an independent living facility, many of these communities offer services and resources to make daily tasks easier. For example, the majority provide social activities, fitness centers, group meals (if desired), a community room, and a secured entrance, and many are located near hospitals and clinics, banks, shopping malls, and public transportation.
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 of South Minneapolis. Their goal was to provide senior housing in the “neighborhood.” The first members moved into Nokomis Square in 1984.
Nokomis Square Cooperative Independent Senior Living
photo courtesy of nokomis square
“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.”
Whether opting for independent senior living or a full continuum of care community that can accommodate aging in place (many senior communities offer this option, so that residents can move from one level of care to another when the time comes), go on a tour. Ask how long the staff has been there, pay attention to how clean the property is, join the residents or members for a meal. Talk to the people who live there. Could you see yourself or your loved one in that environment? Is there a sense of community? Could this ultimately feel like home?
“At Crest View, the coffee pot is always on,” says Barnes. “Our doors are open. Come in and share your talents and your gifts.”