As loved ones enter their golden years, there comes a time to begin discussing retirement communities. NCBI notes that there are currently 1.5 million older adults living in nursing homes and another one million in assisted living facilities. With benefits like socialization with peers, excellent healthcare amenities, and outdoor activities, this does not come as a surprise.
When considering a retirement community for a loved one or oneself, understanding the level of care needed is a must. The levels of care can vary from basic assistance for the elderly to specialized care for those with dementia.
Different types of retirement communities offer varying levels of care. Additionally, it is now important to look for a retirement community that can also protect its residents during a pandemic. “COVID was extreme, and we actually closed down the facility a week before we got the requirement to do so from the CDC and CMS,” said Pam Doshier, Administrator and Executive Director of Dogwood Village. “I felt that we needed to prevent access from the community because we didn’t know what was going on out there at the time.”
Doshier and her colleague, Patty Talley—Customer and Community Relations Director at Dogwood Village—recently appeared on the LTC Heroes podcast to discuss Protecting Residents from COVID-19:
The Six Types of Senior Homes
- Independent Living: Independent living senior homes are geared toward seniors looking for a more social and independent environment. Seniors in independent living do not require specialized care. They can perform most of their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) independently. They are mostly set up as apartment homes, and residents receive housekeeping, transportation, and food services.
- Assisted Living: For seniors who may need some help with their daily tasks, assisted living retirement communities would be their best option. Here, seniors maintain their independence while receiving assistance with their ADLs, which nurses keep track of in their care plan software. Assisted living provides residents with the sense of community and autonomy that independent living does while helping them with tasks that may prove a bit challenging as they age.
- Memory Care: If a loved one is living with Alzheimer’s or dementia, memory care would be the best option for them. These facilities are highly specialized and have nurses that have been trained in the care of seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Additionally, their layout helps minimize confusion for residents. At the same time, the facility has security measures—such as locked doors and gates that require keycards or passcodes—to prevent residents from wandering. Memory care facilities provide 24-hour care for their residents and offer therapies that help improve the lives of seniors with memory loss.
- Skilled Nursing: For seniors who are recovering from an injury, an acute illness, or require specialized, long-term assistance, a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) is the way to go. Seniors who need help with mobility, personal care, or managing their medications via eMAR software will find that SNFs offer the best environment for them. When considering an SNF for one’s stay, one should not forget to consider the quality of life at the facility. Outdoor activities, the ability to socialize with others, and good food should be considered when searching for an SNF for a loved one.
- Nursing Home: The difference between a nursing home and an SNF is that a nursing home is where seniors go when they need assistance with non-medical tasks. On the other hand, a SNF is specialized in providing assistance with medical tasks, for example, helping a senior citizen recover after a stroke. If one needs a place to stay during their aged years and will not require specialized medical services, a nursing home may prove to be their best option.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs): These senior homes are part independent living, part assisted living and part skilled nursing facility. If one does not want to worry about transfers to meet future needs as they age, a CCRC is the way to go. Daily Caring also notes that for elderly couples who may have different care needs, this senior housing option would prove to be best for them. However, CCRCs are the most expensive of all long term care options, and one would need to consult with a financial adviser or check if they qualify for Medicare/Medicaid.
Of course, one should not forget to consider the location of the senior homes they are considering. Senior Lifestyle notes that when choosing a retirement home, location is a big factor. Does one want to be close to family? Does one enjoy a hot or colder climate? Does one want to be near a big city, or would they prefer to be in the countryside? All these should not be forgotten and should be a part of the process when choosing retirement communities.
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11 Things to Look For When Considering a Senior Apartment or Other Retirement Community
To make the process of choosing retirement communities or a senior apartment for a loved one easier, Arbor mentions 11 factors worth considering:
- Level of care provided: Different retirement communities offer different levels of care. Understanding what level of care a facility offers and what level of care one may need is always the place to start.
- Dining services offered: Food is a significant consideration in long term care, with multiple nursing homes taking steps to have higher dietary standards for their residents. Hence, when one is looking at retirement communities, one should ask: Does the facility have a dedicated chef and kitchen staff? Is the food mass-produced like in a cafeteria? Are the ingredients frozen or freshly acquired before cooking? What happens when a resident needs a quick snack in the middle of the day?
- The general community of the senior apartment: One of the benefits of retirement communities is the safety and security they offer. Hence, one should always check whether the facility is located in a safe and friendly environment. For seniors looking for independent living, it would be best to look at not only their senior apartment and the services offered, but also the community services. Questions worth asking include:
- Are there opportunities for outdoor hiking and exercise?
- Are there religious or entertainment services?
- Are there convenient public transportation services?
- On-site amenities: Quality of life is just as important as the quality of care in senior living. Amenities provided vary from community to community. Hence one should know what is important to them and their loved ones. For instance, do you like reading? If so, does the long term care facility have a library? If one is enthusiastic about fitness, they might look into whether or not the facility has a gym or spa
- Services provided at retirement communities: Most long term care facilities offer standard services such as housekeeping, restaurant-style dining, laundry, and transportation. Other facilities may offer unique services—such as a gym for residents—to differentiate themselves from the competition. Note that the more unique services offered, the more the cost of stay at the facility.
- Programs offered at the long term care facility: A facility can create a program of activities each month for residents to engage in. These activities help enhance residents’ quality of life, making their stay more pleasant. Such programs could include cooking classes, painting, gardening, lectures, yoga classes, and trivia with prizes to be won. Dogwood Village has a unique program—restorative sleep program—that helps its residents get a good night’s rest. “With our restorative sleep program, the goal is to create a calm, quiet, sleep-conducive environment for the residents so that they could get eight to nine hours of sleep every night,” said Doshier. “So, we minimize noise, lighting, and the ten other different components that interrupt sleep.”
- Pet policy: Pets can be an important part of one’s life. However, different facilities have different pet policies; hence it is always best to verify the pet policy before making a final decision.
- Transportation: If an elderly relative plans on keeping their car with them as they move to a senior apartment, they should verify that the community allows it and that there is easy parking. If one does not have a car, one should ask if residents are provided with transportation services or if there is a public means of transportation in the community.
- Cost: Cost is something that should never be overlooked. One of the disadvantages of retirement communities is that the more programs, services, or amenities offered, the higher the cost of the stay. Hence, one should talk to their financial planner or check if they qualify for Medicare/Medicaid to get the funds they need. Use this handy care calculator provided by LTC News to see how much it would cost to get the care you need in your area.
- Staff and resident relationships: Elder abuse is often a concern when moving a loved one to a nursing home. The CDC notes that elder abuse is experienced by one in 10 people over the age of 60. Hence, one should always check how nursing staff relate to residents in nursing homes and privately ask the residents—if possible—how they feel about their stay in the nursing home.
- Family friendliness: Family is an essential part of seniors’ lives, especially when they move to a nursing home. It is worth noting that some facilities restrict visits by family members. Hence, one should always check the long term care facility’s policy on family visits.
The Importance of Retirement Communities
Retirement communities offer excellent care options to seniors who would otherwise not get it at home. This is especially true for seniors who may need special medical attention. Additionally, retirement communities provide seniors with a safe, secure environment to engage in outdoor activities, indulge in their hobbies, and socialize with their peers.
The level of care provided, the amenities, services, and the food are all factors that should be considered when choosing a senior apartment for a loved one. However, a final important thing to note when choosing a retirement community is how it makes the older person feel. They are ultimately the ones who will stay in the facility; hence their opinion should always be considered.
For more on recent trends in long term care, read our blog and subscribe to the LTC Heroes podcast.