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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
For more information on assisted living, contact Spring Arbor.