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The Community in Senior Residential Living

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I was just reminded of a very important aspect of senior residential options that can get overlooked in conversations between caregivers and the elders with whom they discuss their residential options.  As a geriatric care manager, I often am asked to facilitate the discussion that a family will have with mom or dad or other loved one as they consider moving out of what can be their lifelong home. 

Let’s start with the stuff we always address.  Surveys among older adults usually tell us there are three important touchstones for seniors making these decisions:

  • Safety – Older adults can become a bit fearful about going out at night or live in fear of break-ins and more.  Senior residential options offer a very safe alternative, often with security personnel and gated grounds.

  • Helping Hands – Seniors have had a lifetime of cleaning up the house, mowing the lawn, and more.  Senior residential communities can give them the independence to do for themselves what they want to do and the freedom from the “heavy lifting.”

  • Medical Security – We have all seen the ads for “help, I’ve fallen…”  Senior residential communities have behind the scenes staff to respond to emergent needs as well as support independence with help for activities of daily living.

But there is another facet of senior residential living that can be overlooked – a sense of community.   I have a client who is now 85 who had tried a senior residential community when she was in her seventies.  She and her husband moved back out within a year, because they did not feel “that old.”  A few years later, the now-widowed wife moved back in to the same place, because she wanted all those items above.  But also because she wanted a sense of community.  The residence, it seemed, acted like her more manageable size version of a neighborhood.  For her, it was a group of people she could play bridge with in the afternoon after lunch dishes were cleared away in the common dining area.  It was a place where just down the hall (what used to be  just down the block) were people she could just drop in and visit with when she felt like it.  In fact, a lot of her neighbors keep their doors open all day so that people who walk by can feel welcome to do just that. 

There are weekly events and daily activities at most senior residential communities ranging from book club meetings to – yes, bingo – and sing-alongs and craft clubs.  If you listen to any of these people, they like “being active.”  And for them, active is all of the above.  They even have gatherings to get really active in yoga or stretching classes adapted to their older bodies and more limited range of motion. 

So, if you are a caregiver having a residential discussion with your older family member or friend, listen for the cues.  Do they talk about feeling lonely, isolated or just not being close to friends?  And if they have been active in clubs and groups, but lately are not as active?  This may be where it may be time to talk about a neighborhood where everything is within a short walk.

Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families throughout metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.,geriatric care manager Chicago, geriatric care Chicago

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