Archive for the ‘Senior Living News’ Category

Roommates Aren’t Just for Dorm Rooms: Seniors Find Companionship and Save Cash by Sharing Spaces

The rate at which seniors are becoming roommates is on the rise. They’re not exactly sharing chemistry notes and frat house addresses, but seniors are participating in homesharing programs being offered across the nation to be able stay in their homes and save money. The companionship they find is an added bonus. According to an AP story, “agencies that put such seniors together say the need appears to be growing as baby boomers age and struggle to deal with foreclosures, property taxes and rising rents.”

In most cases, elderly women who have been divorced or widowed need help with the upkeep of their house or apartment and have an extra room. So, they reach out to agencies specializing in homesharing to find somebody to live with who will pay rent. In some cases, people will barter for household help such as grocery shopping, housecleaning and repair work rather than charge rent; but, recently people have been in search of financial aid so they can keep their homes and remain a part of their community.

And, the companionship home sharers gain in the process is a definite plus. According to Kirby Dunn, executive director of Homeshare Vermont in Burlington, “Independence is great but isolation as we age is a growing concern, so companionship can be almost life-altering. People are telling us they’re happier, sleeping better, eating better.” Some homesharing matches find a lifelong friend and others find someone they can trust and respect while sharing living space. They may not all be Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia, but the home sharers definitely are finding a solution to a potential housing crisis.

Various agencies across the country are helping people find housemates, whether they live in apartments or houses. Most offer services that include matching people to ideal candidates through screening processes to determine compatibility, much like those of online dating sites. And, seniors are taking advantage of those services offered by agencies because it is more efficient and safer than posting notices in local stores, paying for advertisements in newspapers, or posting online to sites such as Craigslist. While not a comprehensive list, the agencies listed below are some of the most reputable and successful in the country.

HomeShare Vermont

A small non-profit organization based out of Burlington, VT, HomeShare Vermont already has helped nearly 100 people remain in their home and found affordable housing for 83 people so far in the 2014 fiscal year. Operating since 1982 (formerly known as Project Home), HomeShare Vermont has 14 staff volunteers who contribute to the screening and matching process. HomeShare Vermont prides themselves on tailoring their services to individuals and remaining actively involved with their matches to offer assistance as their needs change or any challenges arise. HomeShare Vermont requires a one-time non-refundable $30 processing fee for all applicants and charges a Match Fee based on a sliding scale, depending on income. HomeShare also resizes to deny services to individuals who cannot afford their fees; fees can be reduced or waived in cases of hardship. While their primary goal is to help elders remain in their home, they do not have any age, ability or income restrictions in their services. They have found “that people of all ages and abilities can benefit from homesharing.”

Open Communities

Open Communities’ Homesharing program matches residents in the north suburbs of Chicago who have extra rooms with renters who need them. They have facilitated more than 700 matches since 1985 through their free, award-winning shared housing program. Open Communities’ Homesharing is ideal for homeowners, renters, and older adults with disabilities. Their screening process includes prescreening both homeowners and renters and includes getting to know applicants’ personalities, living habits, and expectations. To take part in the Open Communities Homesharing program, homeowners must have a separate bedroom to rent and be willing to share kitchen and laundry facilities. Renters are required to have a minimum monthly income of $1,000 and excellent references.

New York Foundation for Senior Citizens

The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens is dedicated to helping New York seniors enjoy life by remaining in their own homes and communities and avoiding being prematurely institutionalized. The Foundation’s free Home Sharing Program links adult “hosts” who have extra bedrooms in their homes or apartments with appropriate adult “guests” to share their space. At least one of the housemates must be age 60 or over, or the program will match “hosts” age 55 and over with developmentally disabled adult “guests” capable of independent living. The Foundation’s Professional Social Work staff screen all applicants and use QUICK-MATCH, a unique database to help them find the most compatible matches by inputting 31 lifestyle objectives. Once matches have been determined, the staff schedule “match meetings” to facilitate potential hosts and guests in determining their compatibility and willingness to home share. The New York Foundation for Senior Citizens also reports that applications for homesharing through their program have tripled since 2008.

HIP Housing

HIP Housing has helped individuals in San Mateo County, California, live happier, more independent lives for more than 40 years. Their mission is to improve housing and the lives of people in their community and enable people with special needs, either from income or circumstance, to live independent, self-sufficient lives in decent, safe, low-cost homes. HIP Housing offers two types of Homesharing: rent exchange and service exchange. In rent exchange, a home provider is matched with a home seeker who pays rent. In service exchange, a home provider is matched with a home seeker who exchanges services in lieu of or for reduced rent. HIP Housing arranges for applicants to complete an interview and a screening process and offers other services including Personal Housing Coordinator, home visits to seniors and home-bound individuals, Facilitation of Living Together Agreements and more.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is Baltimore’s oldest nonprofit housing provider and has served over 118,000 families since 1968. With innovative and evolving programs, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center helps 3,000 low- and moderate-income families each year. The St. Ambrose Homesharing program matches homeowners offering an extra room in their home with someone looking for an affordable room to rent; the matches are based on varying levels of compatibility. Applicants can rest assured that their homesharing experience will be positive because St. Ambrose staff has years of experience and carefully screens each applicant through interviewing, background checking, and personal reference contacting. St. Ambrose homesharing staff also facilitate each homesharing contract and provides regular follow-up services while empowering home sharers to negotiate and create their own successful living arrangements. St. Ambrose operates in Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Other homesharing resources:

Golden Girl Homes, Inc. - an organization dedicated to promoting and advancing shared housing, particularly for older women by providing information about shared housing and creating networking opportunities for women

HomeSharing, Inc. – an organization in New Jersey providing homesharing solutions in Somerset, Middlesex, Hunterdon, Morris and Union counties

National Shared Housing Resource Center (NSHR) - a clearinghouse of information for people looking to find a shared housing organization in their community, or for people looking to begin a program in their area

Image via Flickr by Arlington County
Post by Angela Stringfellow

Cynics Beware: Your Attitude Might Triple Your Dementia Risk, Study Says

People with a cynical attitude might be placing their health at risk, according to research published in the May 28, 2014 issue of Neurology®, which is the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Cynicism linked to brain health

Specifically, this study finds that individuals who are generally distrusting of others and those with a cynical outlook have triple the risk of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, compared to their less-cynical counterparts. Cynical distrust is the belief that people are generally self-serving and motivated only by selfish desires, and it’s an attitude that’s been associated with other health problems, such as heart disease, in previous research. 

This latest study, supported by the University of Eastern Finland, the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), and the Swedish Society for Medical Research and the Finnish National Graduate School of Clinical Investigation, finds a clear link between cynicism and brain health, based on the results of tests for dementia and questionnaires designed to measure the level of cynicism given to 1,449 participants.

Are you cynical?

The questionnaire, proven to be reliable and producing consistent results in the same individuals over a several-year period, asks participants whether they agree with statements such as:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead.”
  • “It is safer to trust nobody.”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”

A total of 622 participants completed two tests for dementia, with the last test given eight years after the study began. Forty-six participants were diagnosed with dementia during that period.

After adjusting for other factors that could have contributed to the risk of developing dementia, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and smoking, the results showed that those who scored high on the cynicism test (deemed to have a high level of cynical distrust) were three times as likely to develop dementia as those with low levels of cynicism.

Mercola points out links between attitude and physical health

Dr. Mercola is no stranger to promoting the link between attitude and physical health, often touting the benefits of reduced stress and positive thoughts on overall well-being. In response to the study linking cynicism to brain health, he points out that prior research has also linked cynicism to other negative health impacts:

  • Women who have hostile and cynical outlooks are more likely to die prematurely than those with a positive outlook. They also have higher rates of death from coronary heart disease.
  • Cynical people have higher stress levels and often lack the positive social support systems compared to those with  positive attitudes.
  • Cynicism is associated with poor oral health.
  • Cynicism can slow the metabolism in middle age and beyond.

Drawing the logical conclusion between cynicism and poor health

It’s not difficult to draw a logical connection between cynicism and negative health consequences. Stress triggers a hormone known as the “stress” hormone, or cortisol, which sends the body into protection mode and conserves energy — in other words, preserves fat stores so that your body has energy resources should food become unavailable.

While that may be unlikely to actually occur, it’s a physiological response that humans have maintained through adaptation.This increased storage of fat contributes to weight gain and obesity, which of course is linked to diabetes, heart disease and all kinds of health concerns. And numerous studies have linked those very health conditions to an increased likelihood of developing dementia.

Being happy might not prevent dementia, but it sure can’t hurt

So it’s not difficult to draw a logical conclusion that a negative attitude is, in general, not a good thing for your body. While research hasn’t yet shown that any of these things actually cause dementia, only that the presence of one increases the odds that the same individual will eventually develop dementia, it’s probably safe to assume that having a more positive attitude can only benefit your physical health by reducing stress and making you more amenable to certain situations, such as a friend asking you to take a hike on a warm, sunny day.

Above all, though, life is generally more enjoyable when you approach it with a happy, healthy mindset. So if you’re feeling cynical, make an effort to lighten your mood. Participate in activities that tend to relax you and make you feel happy, like reading a book, taking a walk through the neighborhood, visiting a friend or volunteering at a local senior center. Make a concerted effort to focus on the good and you just might shift your general outlook on life. You’ll feel better when you stop focusing on the things that make you feel cynical, and your body and brain will thank you for it, too.

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Giving Male Caregivers the Credit They Deserve

1 in 9 Americans age 65 and older (11% of the population) has Alzheimer’s disease.  It is also estimated that among people age 71 and older, 16% of women have Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, compared with only 11% of men.  Of the 5.2 million people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s in the United States, 3.2 million, or two-thirds, are women. The numbers translate to millions of men being left to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia; the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Alliance for Caregiving estimate that more than 6 million men, almost twice as many as 15 years ago, are caring for someone with those types of cognitive diseases.


As Director of Family and Community Services of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Jan Dougherty has seen the toll caring for family members with Alzheimer’s takes on loved ones.  She characterizes the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s as a “life-altering experience for everyone impacted,” but she notes the distinct differences between male and female caregivers in “Recognizing Heroes at Home: Male Caregivers.”

1.    Processing an Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Dougherty has seen women process an Alzheimer’s diagnosis on a more emotional level, while men process it more functionally.  While women need to understand and cope with the diagnosis and what it means for all parties involved, men see the diagnosis as a problem and immediately try to find a solution.

2.    Coping with the Stress of Caregiving

Men handle the stress of caregiving more easily than women.  Women increase their stress levels by having constant worry and anxiety, but men can complete their caregiving tasks and move on.

3.    Seeking Outside Help

Women tend to shoulder all of the responsibilities of caregiving, but men are more willing to call friends, family, and professionals for help.  They quickly ask for resources and additional support.

4.    Handling Daily Tasks

The women typically are more able to juggle the daily duties of a house – cooking and cleaning and laundry – with caregiving than men.  Men have difficulty cooking and coordinating their wives’ clothing and makeup.  Much of these issues stem from the generation of caregiver currently tending to loved ones; they come from the generation of traditional roles in marriage.

Male caregivers are not just caring for loved ones afflicted with Alzheimer’s, though.  A 2012 analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that men represented as many as 45% of all family caregivers.  Many of these male caregivers aid their parents and spouses.  And, Sherri Snelling’s “The Rapid Rise of the Male Caregiver” points out that there are some benefits to having male caregivers: men often are more assertive when advocating for loved ones with doctors and hospital staff.  They demand straight answers about the condition of their loved ones.

Male caregivers also take advantage of support groups, as evidenced by Ed Mitchell’s support group Men Who Care, at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute and the number of online support groups for male caregivers.

Online Support Groups:

Overall, men are stepping up to take on caregiving roles in record-breaking numbers.  They may not be considered “traditional” caregivers, but they are certainly just as dedicated and determined to provide loving care to their family members as female caregivers.

For Further Reading:

Image via Flickr by Anita Gould
Post by Angela Stringfellow

The Changing Face of Senior Living Marketing

The Internet has changed so many aspects of senior life, from the ways in which they shop for a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), to the ways in which they communicate with their doctors. Marketing strategies for those companies and health care providers also is changing as seniors become more adept at using the web and social media.

Price Transparency

In Cassandra Dowell’s “New Senior Living Shopper Demands Price Transparency,” the point is clear: if CCRCs want to close deals with seniors and/or their adult children, they are going to have to embrace price transparency.  The days of people visiting CCRCs and making their own decisions seem to be a thing of the past, as potential consumers and their adult children price-shop CCRCs online.

As older people and their adult children begin to look for CCRCs, they no longer just want to know about the services and amenities; now they want to know about providers’ contracts, financial stability, and property financials, history, and management information.  The economic downturn seems to have made it even more important for seniors to know more about their choices in CCRCs and feel secure in their decisions.

But, providing the right types of information and amount of price transparency online can be a daunting task for CCRCs.  Databases such as LifeSite Logics and Silver Living have compiled the information and done their own research and reviews on CCRCs and provide consumers with the information and reports they may be looking for when considering a CCRC.

These sites also aid consumers who may not trust information directly from the CCRCs and who are looking for unbiased tools to help them make decisions about their care.

shopping online

When this information is unavailable online, consumers have a difficult time in making those decisions, and with so much information about other CCRCs becoming available, they may just ignore the sites that don’t provide enough information all together.  So, while some CCRCs may consider keeping prices under wraps to encourage on-site visits from prospects, they in actuality are shooting themselves in the foot.

Consumers who know the pricing is within their budgets are more likely to tour the facilities because they don’t want to waste their time looking into CCRCs that are out of their league.  When price transparency is in place, CCRCs create more meaningful follow-up opportunities with prospects and save everyone a great deal of time: only those prospects who can afford your CCRC are contacting you and scheduling tours.

Diane Twohy Masson, CASP, has outlined ten goals with walk-in tours in mind, with number 1 being the highest level to achieve:

  1. Getting a senior to move into your senior living community.  Congratulations on helping them find a solution for their needs!
  2. Scheduling a move-in date – their house sold and they are ready to move in.
  3. Depositing on an apartment – you’ve made a sale!
  4. Coming back to choose an apartment – be careful not to make any assumptions or they will leave before making a choice.
  5. Coming back to discuss financial requirements – get an administrator involved to help.
  6. Coming back to discuss health concerns – remember, this may or may not be the official health assessment.
  7. Coming back to dine with residents – encourage this so the residents can work their magic on your prospect.
  8. Attending an event – help them to imagine the lifestyle of your community.
  9. Touring a second time – invitations to dine with residents, look at the perfect apartment, or meet with some residents and staff are very beneficial.
  10. Wanting to ask more questions – this is the first indication that they are interested, so be on the lookout for a solution to their needs.

Getting the information out to prospects and their adult children online is just the first step in marketing to seniors.  CCRCs need to have a strategy in place for tours and meeting goals to ultimately close the deal with seniors looking for a care facility.

Connecting Through Social Media

Just as the internet has made finding and choosing CCRCs easier for older people, social media and the web have made connecting and communicating with health care providers easier too.

Angie Haupt points out that hospitals have been building an online presence for some time, driven by marketing and supported by relatively large budgets, but there is a trend in more primary care and other private-practice doctors expanding their horizons on the web.  And, the numbers of doctors who are blogging and tweeting are increasing every year.

But, “Should You ‘Friend’ Your Doctor?”  That’s a topic Kristine Crane explores in her May 2014 US News & World Report article, and it appears as though the answer is yes: as long as both the patients and the doctors follow the same rules of communication.  One rule of thumb to follow is that patients should avoid contacting doctors all of the time or for very serious issues online, and doctors are prohibited by law to have specific conversations about patients on social media.

doctor using technology

One of the more effective ways of connecting with doctors through social media is through the various chatting and forum options.  Patients with similar health concerns are able to connect with one another and their doctor and share similar concerns and questions.  And, some doctors are creating podcasts and YouTube videos for patients to listen to or watch prior to their visits, so they attend appointments already armed with critical information.

Again, transparency is the key to effective online communication.  The more information CCRCs and doctors provide to patients online, the more likely they are to transform from prospects to customers and patients.

Images via Flickr by Tim Reckmann and HI TRICIA!

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Study: Evidence-Based Strategies for Communciating with Adults in Long-Term Care

In a recent Clinical Review, Kristine Williams, RN, PhD, found that the communications skills of long-term care workers are a key factor in the quality of life and care for older adults in long-term care settings.  In fact, communication with older adults in these environments can be optimized if health care professionals use evidence-based strategies, because residents in those environments rely on staff for over 75% of their communication opportunities.

Clinical review results: 

  • Normal and abnormal physical and cognitive changes due to aging present communication barriers that put long-term care residents at risk for ineffective communication encounters
  • Institutional factors present communication barriers that put long-term care residents at risk for ineffective communication encounters
  • Health care professionals in long-term care settings need to be aware of these aging and institutional factors and use evidence-based strategies to ensure person-centered communication with residents

Estimates indicate that Americans aged 65 and older will more than double by the year 2050; as a result, the number of older Americans in need of supporting long-term care services also will dramatically increase.   While years of healthy life are increasing along with life spans, supportive care services will be necessary to overcome common limitations experienced by older adults due to the normal changes associated with aging, chronic conditions associated with aging, and Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias that lead to progressive disability.

It’s important to note that the population of dementia sufferers also is projected to double by 2050.  Currently, at least 70% of those aged 65 and older require supportive long-term care services at some point, and estimates are that 40% will reside in a nursing home (at least for a short rehabilitation stay).  With these growing demands on health care providers with geriatric expertise, it will be critical to make long-term are more person-centered.

Through research and discussion, Williams determined that communication is critical to person-centered care.  Nursing home residents report their ability to relate to staff who care for them through communication is a key factor in their satisfaction with life in long-term care.  Plus, nursing staff who report relationships with residents also report higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates.

Also according to Williams, research demonstrates how communication promotes independence and autonomy for residents or can contribute to dependency, depression, behavior issues, and other negative outcomes.  This fact clearly demonstrates the need for effective communication in long-term care settings.

Barriers to Communication

Certain barriers to communication do exist for older adults in long-term care situations, a critical realization for any professional serving in the long-term care industry.  Vision and hearing loss are challenges, as are cognitive changes such as reduced processing speed and working memory.

Stroke and Parkinson’s disease also make communication a challenge for older adults.  Plus, the very fact that the residents had to move from their homes and away from significant others who served as communication partners poses barriers to their effective communication with caregivers in their new communities.

Overcoming Barriers

  • Person-Centered Care – Health care providers should take the time to learn about residents’ backgrounds, history, and family.  Families can aid in this process by providing recorded autobiographies, memory boxes, and photo displays.
  • Ignoring Talk – Include the residents in discussions about their care, to make them feel valued and appreciated.
  • Intergenerational Communication – Care staff may have ageist views and stereotypes of older adults that result in modified communication with them, and the resulting elderspeak has negative effects on the residents.  Caregivers should refrain from using intimate terms of endearment, asking closed questions and suggesting correct answers, and substituting “we” for “I.”
  • Communication Assessment -Health care providers should make an individual assessment of the communication and cognitive abilities of residents in their care and modify communication on an as-needed basis only.
  • Nonverbal Communication -Caregivers need to be aware of the messages they are sending through nonverbal communication and make it a priority to look at the residents, maintain eye contact, and use appropriate facial expressions.  Health care providers also need to ensure they are not committing elderspeak through nonverbal communication, such as looming over the shoulder of a seated older adult.
  • Hearing Support -Speak with gradually louder volume until a comfortable level is reached and do not use a high-pitched voice.  Minimize background noise and frequently check hearing aides for battery power and cleanliness.
  • Cultural Competence -Those health care providers who are not native English speakers or who have accents will need to be especially aware of the effectiveness of their communication with residents.  Validating that the older adult has heard and understood the communication may be necessary.
  • Encouraging Function -Use communication to prompt residents and provide cues and reinforcement to encourage and improve functional independence.
  • Dementia -It is even more important to resist using elderspeak with patients who experience dementia; research shows older residents with dementia were more than twice as likely to resist or respond to care with aggression or displeasure than when staff used normal adult communication.  Keep in mind that residents with dementia have slowed processing speed and reduce working memory, so avoid excessively slow speech when communicating with them.  It may be necessary to repeat questions and statements and use paraphrasing.
  • Staff Training -Training and educational programs should include specific information on effective communication with older adults.  Periodic training sessions should be provided with new information on evidence-based communication developments.

Overall, health care providers need to be aware of the challenges older adults face in communicating and be cognizant of whether they are adding to the barriers of effective communication themselves.  Establishing interpersonal connections may be the first step toward more effective communication with residents, especially because providers should strive to improve the residents’ quality of life through person-centered care.

What challenges have you faced in communicating with residents in the senior living communities you serve in? Discuss in the comments below.

Image via Flickr by BisGovUK

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Love to Learn? Protect Yourself Against Dementia

According to a 2012 AARP membership survey, 87% of respondents reported they were extremely or very concerned about “staying mentally sharp.”  In fact, of the 10 areas listed as concerns in the survey, “staying mentally sharp” was the area of greatest concern, tied with “Medicare in the future.”

Julie Beck’s June 2014 article, “Study: An Intellectual Life Could Protect Against Dementia” in The Atlantic points to some hopeful news for aging Americans who are concerns about cognitive impairment.  The Mayo Clinic study, published in JAMA Neurology, supports the idea that staying mentally active could help stave off dementia.  According to Beck, “researchers found that ‘the protective effect of intellectual enrichment is primarily manifested as a relatively consistent higher cognitive performance over time” and “mental stimulation throughout a person’s life helped decrease the risk more than if they started cognitive activities in mid-life, but those with lower education levels benefitted more from mid and late life activity than those with higher education levels.”  And, Dr. Prashanthi Vemuri, assistant professor of radiology at the Mayo Clinic and lead author on the study, determined that the brain is more likely sharper than starting later, but it’s never to late to start.

Protect Yourself Against Dementia with Brain Games

So, if staying mentally active can help protect yourself against dementia, what are some things you can do now?  Various organizations have compiled ideas, information, and resources for mental activities and brain health.

Alzheimer’s Association

  • Start with a small change, like a daily walk
  • Stay curious and involved – commit to lifelong learning
  • Read and write
  • Work on crosswords or other puzzles
  • Attend lectures and plays
  • Enroll in courses at a local adult education center, community college, or other community group
  • Play games
  • Garden
  • Try memory exercises

AARP Brain Health Center

Harvard Medical School

  • Keep learning
  • Use all your sense
  • Believe in yourself
  • Prioritize your brain use
  • Repeat what you want to know
  • Space it out – re-study the essentials after increasingly longer periods of time


  • Learn something new
  • Speak in tongues – learn a second language
  • Read
  • Play chess
  • Try computer games
  • Work on (old-fashioned) puzzles
  • Get together with friends and take part in clubs
    • Card clubs
    • Chess clubs
    • Sewing/quilting circles
    • Volunteer

  • Play checkers
  • Read a newspaper or book for an hour
  • Write a letter
  • Do at least two mentally-stimulating activities a day
  • Play a mentally challenging game every day for several weeks

Additional Web Resources:

What do you do to keep your mind sharp? Share with us in the comments below!

Image via Flickr by O. Taillon

Post by Angela Stringfellow

Dispelling the Confusion Between 55+ Communities and Independent Living

An active husband and wife senior coupleAs part of our mission to help families find senior living options that fit their loved ones’ needs, offers a free Care Advisor service. On any given day, our Care Advisors assist over 400 seniors and families to find housing and care options that meet their needs and fit their budget.

Over time, our Care Advisors have noticed some frequently asked questions common to many of our inquirers. This article is the first in a series where our Care Advisors respond to questions many retirees have. In this article, Care Advisor Cindy Fox explains the differences between independent living and 55+ communities (sometimes referred to as Active Adult Retirement Communities).

When seniors and their families inquire about a community, they know exactly what they want their new lifestyle to have: they desire an affordable monthly rent, a dining option on nights they don’t feel like cooking, living among other seniors their age and perhaps have scheduled activities to join. When most people begin their search for independent living, they think this is the community setting they are looking for; however, that’s not the case.

All too often, I ask the seniors to tell me a bit more about themselves and they tell me that they’re a husband and wife in their mid-60s, fairly active without any physical ailments, and don’t want the hassle of home ownership. We conclude that an independent living community isn’t what they want for a variety of reasons.

Couple having tea Younger seniors desire an active setting—living much as they had before retirement—and these types of communities are often referred to as 55+ community, active adult, or age-qualified. Services, such as meals, housekeeping, and transportation—amenities that generally appeal to an older demographic (around 80)—are not of interest to them. And younger retirees want to live among those of a similar age.

Understandably, many people are confused and frustrated when they learn that independent living is not what they seek. Unfortunately, nothing is straightforward when learning about a new and unfamiliar environment, and part of this is because not everyone has adopted standard terms in the senior living industry. This is where my advice can help.

Couple bike ridingIn my experience, the marketplace has yet to adapt to the demands of younger seniors. They want fewer responsibilities and more opportunity for social engagement with their peers, yet prefer services such as dining or housekeeping to be optional. More specifically, they would prefer to forgo maintaining and upkeeping a house, but keep the routines of home life—cooking meals and cleaning their personal space.

The good news is that this type of community does exist, typically called active adult, 55+ or age qualified communities. Furthermore, they come in a variety of styles, and whether they are gated developments with free-standing houses or an apartment complex, they will generally have beautiful common areas where residents can congregate. Typically, you must be at least 55 years of age to live in this setting and the median age is late 60s to early 70s—a generation younger than those moving into independent living communities.

According to industry standards, independent living refers to a setting where a meal plan, housekeeping, linen service and transportation are standard amenities included in the monthly rent. Often a full-time activities director is on staff to schedule daily activities and weekly outings. The median age of seniors in this type of community is usually in the early 80s. When joining an independent living community, there is generally no option to “opt out” of the meals and services. Frequently, this setting will also offer assisted living support as needed.

Couple enjoying the natural sceneryBoth 55+ and independent living communities will allow home health care providers to assist residents with light-to-moderate support. This à la carte approach can quickly become cost prohibitive when a resident has high care needs, and it may become necessary to consider a location that offers higher levels of care on site, such as assisted living. If you have a condition where you can expect substantial increases in care outside of the normal aging process, it will be important to take these options into consideration.

When you decide which type of community meets your needs, it is time to search for your new home. While searching for independent living or assisted living communities is relatively easy, it is a bit more challenging to find 55+ communities. If you don’t find the words “dining service,” “meals provided,” or “housekeeping” listed on a community’s website, it is likely a 55+ community.  Additionally, the cost to live in a 55+ community will be far less than an independent setting because the there are fewer amenities bundled into the rates.

You will spend many fruitful years in your new home, regardless of what choice you make. As you age, you might transition from one type of senior living community to another as your needs change, providing the quality of life most important to you.  If you are looking to find a setting that offers a 55+ setting, where you can transition to independent living and assisted living as needed, you may wish to consider a continuing care setting. This for many seniors is their last move because it offers a continuum of care designed to provide the environment you want at the time it is needed.

I hope this discussion has proven helpful in your search for your new home, and I’m just a phone call away should you have any questions!

Sunrise Senior Living: Growing Green Practices at Communities

Sunrise Senior Living - LogoIn an earlier article, I highlighted the growing trend of retirement communities adopting green practices, and Sunrise Senior Living was one of the senior living providers featured. In this article, I am highlighting other green practices found at their communities.  

Sunrise Senior Living is already a leader in energy-saving efforts, with 33 communities receiving ENERGY STAR© certification and all of their 248 communities in the United States entered into the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Portfolio Manager to track energy usage, but there are other measures this company embraces to reduce their environmental footprint and enhance the lives of their residents.

Replacing outdated equipment with the latest technology and the “best of the best” is how Jim Shaffer, director of maintenance and capital programs, describes Sunrise’s philosophy when renovating or upgrading communities. While the upfront costs might be higher, in the long run the company sees a substantial return on investment that results in reduced costs due to decreased consumption of resources, whether it is energy or water.

Sunrise of Plano's Associate Executive Director Sharon Demarest

Sunrise of Plano’s Associate Executive Director Sharon Demarest showing off the community’s herb and flower garden.

With communities typically spanning four to five acres, of which half to one third is devoted to landscaping, that is quite a bit of green space to maintain. This is one reason why Sunrise decided to explore the use of a smart lawn irrigation system to manage their watering. The system determines the watering schedules and volumes using the previous days’ rainfall totals that are provided via satellite. Two years ago, this system was installed at several communities and the investment is paying off, with Shaffer saying they have seen “significant water savings.”

Sunrise is also willing to invest in new technology if it improves their residents’ living spaces. “Creating that sense of home” is important and lighting plays a role in creating a comfortable feeling, says Shaffer. Four to five years ago, Sunrise made the switch from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which saved a significant amount of energy, says Andy Coelho, senior vice president of facilities, and now we are investing in light emitting diode (LED) lights since the technology has proven itself and creates the aesthetics we are looking for. Shaffer adds that LEDs are now more affordable.

Sunrise of Plano's Gardening Club

Sunrise of Plano’s Garden Club enjoying an afternoon of gardening.

Despite the value of these energy-saving practices, they are often unnoticed by residents. However, there are other more visible ways that Sunrise greens up its communities—efforts that are inspired by their residents. At Sunrise of Plano in Texas, the herb and flower garden is an integral part of the community and is a special place for a lot of residents, says Sharon Demarest, the community’s associate executive director.

Though residents started the garden five years ago, its importance had diminished until being resurrected by Demarest and other residents two years ago. The garden is near and dear to my heart and is special for a lot of residents, Demarest says. With the garden having raised beds, residents can easily water and weed the herbs and flowers, and the maintenance staff performs the heavier duty work.

Sunrise of Plano's Gardening Club hard at work.

Filling the beds are the staple culinary herbs of basil, rosemary, sage and parsley. Lavender is also grown along with blackberries and blueberries. Drying the herbs allows their use year-round in dishes served in the community dining room, and they also served as inspiration for the lemony basil salmon roasted beet-couscous salad dish featured in the 4th annual Taste of Sunrise Recipes from the Heart and Home,says Demarest.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's Mary Hiers

Sunrise of Webb Gin’s Mary Hiers earned NWF wildlife habitat certification for her community.

She is proud that the garden inspires a sense of community amongst all residents and staff and serves a purpose beyond just lifting spirits. The community’s activity director uses it for social programming and activities, since gardening not only keeps residents active but the plants can also serve as cues, which are important for memory care residents. It’s such a happy place with residents working in the garden, collaborating and having fun; it’s truly a joy, Demarest says.

At the Webb Gin community in Georgia, it was the efforts of resident Mary Hiers that made residents and staff more aware of their garden’s importance as habitat for local wildlife. “I just love the outdoors…the environment has always been important to me,” Hiers says. As the former director of the Fernbank Science Center, Hiers spent her life connecting children and their parents to the natural world around them, and she continues this even in her retirement.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is enjoyed by residents year-round.

Tending the garden is a favorite pastime of residents.

Upon joining Webb Gin, she noticed that the landscape provided habitat, food, water and shelter, the four elements needed to provide habitat for wildlife. “The property is beautiful,” Hiers says, of the campus that has walking paths through the landscaped grounds and a retention pond that plays host for many birds. Favorite resident activities are walking along the paths and bird watching.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is enjoyed by both families and residents.

The landscaped grounds are enjoyed by residents throughout the year.

Knowing of the National Wildlife Federation certified wildlife habitat program, she decided to earn certification for Webb Gin. Executive Director Carla Cooper assisted Hiers in filling out the application, and they received certification in 2013. But Heirs didn’t stop there.

To develop the educational component of the walking trail, such as describing how the plants contributed to providing habitat, she reached out to a dear friend, who also happened to be a successful grant writer, to write a grant for signs that could be placed alongside the 150 plants located around the community.

Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden is well tended by residents.

Her friend wrote an award-winning grant and the signs were erected later that year. While educating residents  is the primary reason of the signs, there is another beneficial use that these signs provide. Recall exercises are good for our brains, and the community therapist uses the plants and signs in recall exercises, Hiers says.

Another important sign is the National Wildlife Federation certification sign that prompts visitors to ask what it means. “Families see the sign and ask about it,” she says, and based upon the questions she answers, she thinks news about backyard certification is spreading, something she is pleased to see.

Smiles are always found in Sunrise of Webb Gin's garden.

Inspired by seeing raised beds at a nursing home, Hiers is exploring whether raised beds could be built at Webb Gin so disabled residents can also participate in gardening. And she is also instrumental in planning an Earth Day program with Jenohn Carter, the activities and volunteer coordinator. Residents will plant a Golden Raintree to replace one that died earlier and have the opportunity to hear local master gardeners talk about gardening.

Sunrise of Webb Gin is surrounded by NWF certified landscaped grounds.

Though Hiers takes the initiative to spearhead these environmental efforts, she credits that Webb Gin staff for their support, saying “we have the most awesome director.” And because she loves what she is doing, Hiers doesn’t see ending her work anytime soon; “I’ll go to my grave being a teacher.”

Andrea Watts is a Seattle-based freelance writer who covers sustainable forestry and agriculture issues. Her writings have appeared in publications that include TimberWestThe Forestry Source and Acres U.S.A.

The 2014 Best Senior Living Awards is Open for Nominations

We’re excited to announce the launch of this year’s Best Senior Living Awards! Nominations are being accepted today through April 14th.

Phase 1 of the Best Senior Living Awards identifies the best websites, newsletters, blogs, organizations, and more. Phase 2 of the Best Senior Living Awards: Best Senior Living Communities will be launched in May 2014 and will identify the best senior living communities in key cities across the U.S.

This year, we’ve added a few exciting new categories to the Best Senior Living Awards – Phase 1, including:

  • Best Books for Aging and Caregiving- Includes books written for seniors and caregivers, which may be collections of inspirational stories, ground-breaking ways to think about aging, and humorous anecdotes to brighten your day. Tell us about your favorite books!
  • Biggest Senior Living Advocate – These are organizations that fight for senior citizens’ rights on Capitol Hill, advocate for increased funding for diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and raise awareness about issues facing the growing aging population. What organizations are making the biggest impact in the lives of seniors? Tell us about them!
  • Best Large Cities for Senior Living – Which large cities boast tons of senior-friendly services like public transportation, access to prestigious hospitals and advanced medical care, and senior-friendly recreation? The Best Large Cities for Senior Living include those with populations of 200,000 or more and have at least 10 assisted living, independent living or memory care communities.
  • Best Small Cities for Senior Living – Not everyone enjoys the big-city atmosphere. Small cities are sometimes desirable for seniors who want to be away from the fast pace of city life and enjoy the beautiful scenery in the countryside. The Best Small Cities for Senior Living have a population of less than 200,000 and have at least 5 assisted living, independent living or memory care communities.

We’ve also brought back the most popular categories from the Best Senior Living Awards programs in past years. Here’s a look at the full list of categories included in this year’s Awards.

Vote for your favorite nominees for the best places, resources, websites, blogs and more in the categories 2014 Best Senior Living Awards

Vote for the most influential, inspiring and innovative people and organizations in the categories below.

Voting ends on April 28, 2014, and finalists will be selected based on popular vote as of that date. Finalists will be judged by a panel of leading senior living experts based on a carefully crafted set of standardized, category-specific rating criteria, and winners will be announced on May 19, 2014.

For full contest details and information about the ratings and judging process for each category, visit

Interested in serving on our panel of top-notch senior living experts? Email Angela at for details!


ElderChicks Have a Zest for Life: Interview with Dr. Thelma Reese

Chatting with Dr. Thelma Reese over the phone, you can hear her zest for life in her voice. At 80 years old, the retired professor laughs jovially at the trials and tribulations associated with aging. Her extraordinary outlook and vibrant personality are conveyed effortlessly with her knowledgeable commentary on life.

“What’s a Blog?”

I can say with absolute certainty that when I’m 80 years old, I want to be just like Dr. Thelma Reese.

One of the perks of being a writer or blogger is the opportunity to interview people who make your day or literally change your entire view on a subject. That’s a fact Dr. Reese knows well herself, having co-authored a book, The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life, with her friend Dr. Barbara Fleisher, also a retired professor and better known as Bobby.

I mentioned that we found her through their blog, ElderChicks, and Thelma responded, “When we were writing our book, our daughters, who are aging Baby Boomers themselves, said, ‘You need to have a blog!’ And we said, ‘What’s a blog?” Her laughter set the tone for what would turn out to be one of the most enjoyable 30 minutes I’ve ever spent talking with someone.


Seniors Aren’t Just Busy, They’re Vibrant and Active

Dr. Reese says her own mother was part of her inspiration in writing The New Senior Woman. “She lived to be just one month shy of 97 years old,” Thelma says. “And she still absolutely had all her marbles. I realized that she lived in a totally different world.”

Thelma notes how rapid the change has been in the world of aging. “We’ve gotten wider – and I don’t mean in the hips,” she quips.

“If you look at a population graph that shows age distribution, there used to be a point in the middle,” she explains. “But now, it’s flat. The change has been very rapid. Aging is so much more visible now, partly because there are more of us, but also because we’re in better shape.”

“And seniors aren’t just busy, but they’re vibrant. They’re active. They’re engaged with the world.”

Aging Women Have Incredible Stories to Tell

Thelma and Bobby grew interested in how some are handling aging so well, and others not so well. So they started getting together with women and seeking out ladies who seem to have found the secret to vibrant aging – some way that they handle it that makes it a very positive thing.

They found that most people they asked immediately had someone in mind: one of those vibrant, joyful, bright personalities who are embracing aging wholeheartedly.

And they started listening to women’s stories. “We’re all different,” Thelma says. “And we wanted to talk to all kinds of people, not just those who have some sort of tremendous cushion that just makes things easier.”

Women from All Walks of Life

The women profiled in The New Senior Woman come from all walks of life. They range in age from just under 62 (at the time of publication) to 100 years old. They have different ethnic backgrounds, different education levels, and different socio-economic status.

“The 99-year-old and 100-year-old women featured in the book are extraordinary,” Thelma says. “What was really interesting is that there were certain topics that came up again and again. So each chapter’s title is one of those topics.”

“Everyone has something to say about these topics, or some interest in them like what happens in retirement, downsizing, or ‘How do I spend my days, what do I do to fill the time so I don’t get bored?’. Many are sensitive about getting rid of their possessions or facing that kind of change. It’s a really emotional thing,” describes Thelma.

Sibling Rivalry – In Your 50’s?  

“What happens to families, the surprises of sibling rivalry that hits when the kids are about 50. It’s a big issue,” she says. This surprised me a bit, so here we had a brief interlude during which Thelma asked me to think about families I know, and perhaps some sisters that aren’t getting along all that sisterly.

“Ohhh, yes,” I say.

“Aha! Exactly,” Thelma replies confidently.

Impressed by the tidbit of knowledge I’ve just gained and now excited to write a blog post about middle-age sibling rivalry, I think to myself, “You can tell she was a professor in her former life. And I love it!

Back to the book, Thelma says “Seniors today are really learning new things and adapting to a world that is so different. Health, separation, and loss – you don’t get to be older unless you’ve dealt with these things. One chapter is called, ‘Sometimes I Feel Safest in My Senior Bubble.’”

Younger Women Have a Strong Interest In Aging Well The New Senior Woman

Dr. Reese and Dr. Fleisher did not want it to be an academic book. They wanted it to be something interesting and fun to read, even though they are academics themselves.

“We didn’t want it to be pure research,” Thelma says. “Most of what’s been written about this time of life has been written by people who are younger. We are viewing aging as contemporaries and as women who can offer guideposts to people approaching senior years.”

But they’ve been surprised to find that a much of their audience is actually younger women. Thelma notes that one younger woman explained that these topics become interesting to her age group when they start to realize that they’re mortal.

“The book came out at the end of October, and it’s really been a great adventure,” says Thelma.

Dr. Reese and Dr. Fleisher are already talking about writing The New Senior Man.

“I don’t know that men will actually buy such a book, though,” she laughs. “It will be their wives buying it for them, handing it to them and saying, ‘Here! Read this!”

A New Way to Think About Aging

I mentioned that something she said at the beginning of our conversation really made me think about “aging” in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. The women in their book range in age from 62 to 100 – that’s a span of nearly 30 years!

Do we, as a society, really lump people separated by 30 years into the same group of “seniors”? That’s the impact a drastically increased lifespan has had. At one time, a person at age 62 was undoubtedly entering the last stage of life. Now, not so much.

“Exactly!” Thelma said with enthusiasm. She went on to describe a friend of Bobby’s who is 62 years old and has run a very successful business. She’s an old friend who lives in the Midwest, and recently called Bobby and announced that she’s getting a divorce.

“Her husband has retired and wants to play golf, and he’s not terribly interested in doing other things,” Thelma explains. “She figures that with her family history and a little luck, she has another third of her life left to live. And she’s not going to sit here and wait for him to stop playing golf,” she chuckles.

Dr. Reese Exemplifies Joyful Aging

Thelma is certainly not slowing down. She once made a roundtrip flight from Philadelphia to Houston and back to Philadelphia – in a single day. “I was invited to a luncheon with Barbara Bush, and I really wanted to go,” she says.

She arrived at the airport early, thinking that it would take some time to get through airport security. To her surprise, they whisked her right through. She asked a gentleman working in security, “Is this because I’m old?”

“No, no it’s random,” the man explained. Yet when she got to the second checkpoint, she was again whisked straight through.

And again, she asked a woman working for airport security, “You’re letting me rush through here because I’m old, aren’t you?”

This worker said, “Oh, sure!” Thelma laughs appreciatively as she gets to the punch line of the story, and I’m laughing right along with her.

There’s not really any way to wrap up this article in a way that’s worthy of Dr. Reese, so I’ll end it with one of her anecdotes that sums up her attitude about aging.

On Monday, Thelma appeared on Conversations Live with Vicki St. Clair, a Seattle-based radio show. During the interview, Vicki asked her if she believes that 80 is the new 60. “Absolutely not, and I don’t want it to be,” she says. “80 is the new 80, and I’m fine with that.”

As I said, this was truly one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had.

Learn more about Dr. Thelma Reese and Dr. Barbara Fleisher’s book at, visit their blog at, or follow them on Facebook. And definitely purchase the book, The New Senior Woman at Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Post by Angela Stringfellow

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