Archive for the ‘Independent Living’ Category

Small Space Gardening for Seniors


As a longtime gardener, I just love the smell of potting soil in the warm sun. Add the scent of herbs, flowers and the taste of a fresh cherry tomato, and I’m in my happy place. It’s certainly something I don’t ever want to give up.

If you know a senior who’s loved to garden for decades, like I do, then I bet they’d be delighted to learn they don’t need to give it up as they age. They might not want to weed huge beds or handle heavy pots, but they can still get their hands in the dirt and grow fresh herbs, vegetables, flowers and other plants.

With an elevated flowerbed, it’s easier for older adults with back problems and other age-related ailments to do small space gardening. With an elevated bed, those who need to work either standing or seated can still plant, water and enjoy their garden.

Elevated garden beds provide a container deep enough for the soil to stay moist and allow for root growth. Many are on four legs so they’re at waist height. This allows those with hip, knee, back or balance problems to still dig in the dirt. The following are some tips on senior-friendly gardening.

Where to Place Your Bed

You don’t need a lot of room for raised flowerbed. If you have a small balcony or patio, you should be able to fit one in a space around four feet by two feet.

If you have eight or more hours of sunshine, you can grow herbs, veggies and flowers that enjoy the hot sun. If where you live gets less sunshine, stick to shade-loving flowers or even low-light houseplants.

Getting Started

Start with the basics: an elevated bed, good quality potting soil, time-release fertilizer, a watering can, a hand trowel and garden clippers for pruning. Choose small bags of soil so they’re easier to handle. Using a scoop or a big measuring cup for dipping and pouring soil into the container also helps.

Make sure the bed’s drain holes are open so excess water can drain. You can cover the holes with a small stone so the water can drain but the soil won’t clog the hole. Then fill the container with soil to within one or two inches from the top of the container. This allows room for water.

Choosing Plants

A garden doesn’t have to accommodate one type of plant or another. It can be delightful to mix flowers with vegetables and grow a few favorites of each. Here are some easy plants that do well in a small space:

  • Sunny Flowers: Zinnias, periwinkles, petunias and daylilies all love the sun, grow upright and are easy to care for. For plants that cascade over the side, try lantana, verbena or Million Bells petunias.
  • Shade-Loving Flowers: As long as your garden gets four or so hours of sun, you can still enjoy the bright blooms of shade-loving flowers. Heart-shaped caladiums, bright impatiens and begonias are good shade choices. For a cascading effect, plant ivy, vinca vine or lobelia.
  • Vegetables: Lettuce is an easy crop for a small space. It performs best in the spring or fall rather than under the summer heat. During the summer, lettuce can be replaced with a different plant. Cherry tomatoes or patio tomatoes grow in a container. You can also grow hot peppers, basil, green onions and pole beans, which will need a small trellis to climb on.
  • Herbs: Herbs love the sun so you’ll need around eight or more hours of it. They also love to grow in containers. Easy-to-grow herbs include chives, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary.
  • American Home Shield’s guide to a low-maintenance vegetable garden is helpful for the laid-back gardener who wants to enjoy fresh produce without spending too much time outdoors.

Plant Care

  • The best way to track plant watering is to monitor rainfall and check the dirt for moisture. Then you can water as needed.
  • Feed the plants following the directions on the back of your time-release fertilizer.

Small space gardening gives added motivation to get outdoors in the fresh air and can be enjoyed by seniors with varying ability levels. Some older adults prefer to choose the plants, get their hands in the dirt and enjoy the planting process. There are others who are content to just water their garden and watch it grow. Either way, gardening can bring hours of enjoyment, quiet contemplation and a subject of conversation.

Lea Schneider has been a gardener for many years, and has also worked at a professional flower growing company. Lea writes about her gardening knowledge for Home Depot. For more small-space gardening ideas, including raised garden beds, you can visit Home Depot’s website here.


Merrill Gardens: Designing Senior Communities that Forge Intergenerational Connections

merrill-gardens-at-the-university-courtyardIn Bill Pettit’s opinion, the courtyard at Merrill Gardens at The University is one of the best in Seattle. As president of R.D. Merrill Company (parent company of Merrill Gardens), he has seen some of the finest courtyards that are found in senior living communities. Superficially, there isn’t anything noticeably different that distinguishes this courtyard from others:  it has seating areas, a water feature, and planters. Not even the Ionic columns, which symbolize its relationship with the University of Washington, would make this courtyard more special than the others.

The Importance of Connectivity

It’s not the tangible design elements that make this courtyard the best, in Pettit’s mind. It’s the intangible element of connectivity: This courtyard is a gathering place not only for seniors who call Merrill Gardens at The University home, but also the residents of The Corydon, an adjacent apartment complex which houses students, young professionals, and even baby boomers. Petitt says that during the day, the populations mix in the courtyard, allowing relationships to grow between residents of all ages. It’s this connectivity which he sees as an overlooked yet vital component that contributes to a seniors’ well-being. This desire for social connection “will merrill-gardens-at-the-university-courtyard-twoeven be more pronounced and meaningful as my generation, the Baby Boomer generation, transition into senior housing alternatives,” Petitt explains, and that “seniors as they age are looking for connections and to maintain connections more than anything else.”

In his opinion, this connectivity wasn’t appreciated or understood when senior living communities were built decades ago. “When Merrill Gardens started building communities 24 years ago, and I think the industry as a whole, a lot of the 1990s’ designs focused on finding an affordable piece of land and rather than looking at trying to create a community that kept seniors connected, typically that affordable land would be off on its own,” he said. “Out of this experience we learned two things, the land might have been cheaper, but you were spending more in marketing trying to get people to the site, and in addition to keeping them connected, we were now transporting them longer distances. The other aspect is what they were turning into was one big island of old age.”

Building a senior living community that wasn’t an island of old age was the vision for Merrill Gardens at The University, which is located near the University Village shopping center and less than half a mile away from the University of Washington Seattle campus. “From the start we had envisioned a gathering place, someplace where [we could] combine seniors with other generations. In some respects we weren’t sure how it was going to work out,” Pettit admitted.

Since the opening of the community in 2009, this new approach has paid off with a waiting list at the community, and families surprised that the surroundings don’t feel like a senior living community when they tour. “All of what we build as a company, and we’re not alone, these are truly residences. All of our units have kitchens,” Pettit says. “Our residents know they have the flexibility if they choose to prepare their own meals but they also have access to our dining room.”

The Design of Connectivity

The incorporation of connectivity is visible in prominent and subtle ways of its design. Walking around the block, and you will find a Yoga studio, restaurants, and shops and the entrance to The Corydon. Once inside Merrill Gardens at The University, “it’s not by accident that all of our common areas are set up with a visual to the courtyard,” he adds.

Pairing a merrill-gardens-at-the-university-dining-roomresidential apartment building alongside the senior living community also resulted in the unforeseen benefit of helping seniors transition “at their own pace” into Merrill Gardens at The University. Seniors who live in the neighboring apartments can participate in the dining program and activities, and this approach has “worked very effectively,” Pettit says.

With Merrill Gardens at The University having proven that this new approach to connectivity works, Pettit says they are now using this approach at new communities in other Washington State cities including Burien, Kirkland and Auburn, but also future sites in California. We have been actively building for the last 10 years, he says, and we are looking for sites “where the seniors are connected to downtown, where they are connected to be able to walk and step outside the door of the community and be immersed in an intergenerational population, rather than feeling like they have to [be] transport[ed] to it. They are part of it.”

This new approach does have its disadvantages from a financing and construction standpoint; multiple parcels are required to build these larger communities and being located in an urban environment means higher construction costs due to less laydown area for materials. Unfortunately, it also means higher monthly fees to live at the community, but at least in Washington State, there are income-restricted apartments available thanks to tax credits Merrill Garden receives from the state.

With an increasing population of seniors who will eventually move into senior housing, an emphasis on connecting seniors to outside the community and other generations will likely only increase.

“My belief, after all these years in the industry, is the industry needs many solutions,” Pettit shares. “This is a solution which I think appeals more broadly certainly to my generation than to previous generations, and yet I think there are still other alternatives that will continue to evolve and offshoots. But I think the central theme of maintaining connections is very real and very telling about the evolution of senior housing.”

Joan’s Journey: The Results of My Driving Ms. Joan Experiment

driving-ms-joan-resultsWelcome Joan’s Journeyers. In my opinion, giving up one’s car and agreeing to no longer drive, belongs on the stress scale with death of a loved one, divorce and moving. Each of these events is life changing. For me, handing over my car keys to the friendly dealership representative was like cutting off a body part. My keys, and the life they represented, have been a part of me since age 16. Saturday, June 13, 2015, will remain in my instant recall for the rest of my life.

I returned my car about noon, filled out the paperwork and looked around the dealership for the last time. The attendant took my keys and whisked away my lovely vehicle to be serviced and sold.

How did I cope those first days, how did I manage without a car and how am I doing now? Learn more about the results of the driving Ms. Joan experiment in Joan’s Journey, Part 36.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

The Last Stop: Refresh

margery-refreshThere’s a new buzzword at my place—refresh. If we had read our Resident Documents when we moved in, we would probably know what to expect when refresh is mentioned. Yet I would hate to quiz anyone about what is in that Resident Documents binder. It’s like the yearly mailing from Medicare: we have it and store it, but who reads it unless there is a problem. And even if we did read it, we probably wouldn’t understand the explanation anyway.

During the past year at our monthly Town Hall meetings, our money people, residents and administrator have warned us to watch our operating pennies because we will need money for refresh. Refresh is what our company does after a resident has lived for seven years in an apartment or cottage, and the cost comes out of our operating budget. Refresh means new carpet and a repaint of the unit, as well as some mechanical cleaning. Closets have to be emptied and ornaments removed.

Read about refresh agitation that my friends are experiencing in the Last Stop: Part 25.

This post was written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist who lives in a CCRC outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”

Joan’s Journey: When Handing Over One’s Car Keys Is Not So Dreadful

joan-and-her-car-twoWelcome Joan’s Journeyers. Since June, my fabulous-fake designer purse is slightly less crowded. The absence of car keys has lightened my purse and elevated my bank account. Moreover, the heavy responsibilities of driving throughout greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area are the responsibility of professional drivers.

Since moving to my senior living community in Santa Monica nearly two years ago, my daughter Allison has been concerned about the complex, often dangerous driving on the roads and freeways. I am a excellent driver and am quite proud of my 54-year driving record. Allison’s concerns are the other drivers.

The leasing agreement on my comfortable sedan terminated last June. For months prior to the lease’s completion, Allison lobbied with her two brothers to convince me not to lease or buy another car. Their solution to LA driving was hiring drivers from Uber and Lyft, professional driving services that provide almost immediate door-to-door travel at a cost allegedly lower than traditional taxi rates.

For months I argued the virtues of driving my own car but received relentless insistence from my adult children that I consider a three-month trial of professional driving services. June 2015 arrived and my car lease expired. To stop their conjoling, I most unhappily agreed to the Driving Ms. Joan Experiment.

The Driving Ms. Joan Experiment

To determine whether these professional driving services actually saved me money, I decided to do a comparison of using these services instead of my own personal automobile. The factors I compared included:

  • Monthly driver costs versus leasing and/or owning vehicle, including monthly lease or purchase fees, gasoline, auto insurance, and auto maintenance
  • Safety of driver service vehicle and driver
  • Courtesy of professional driver and driving habits
  • Availability of driver when ordered
  • Length of time to pick up
  • Comfort of service automobile

In the next Joan’s Journey, I’ll share the surprising results of my Driving Ms. Joan Experiment, including an unexpected transportation perk of senior living. Until the next post, enjoy your journey day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

Joan’s Journey: Why Seniors Should Reconsider Pet Ownership

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. As a devoted pet owner, I know personally that pets offer unconditional love, help ease loneliness and give owners a sense of belonging. I lived with and loved domestic animals and birds throughout my life. When dogs and cats were forbidden in my apartment complexes, I substituted one or two sweet singing parakeets. My experiences with pets are so positive that until I moved to senior housing at Holiday Villa East in Santa Monica, I thought that seniors who desired to be pet owners should be so.

Yet living in a senior community for the past 18 months has drastically changed my mind, and I have arrived at a controversial and potentially upsetting opinion—not all seniors should bring their beloved pets when joining a senior living community or adopt new pets to replace animals who pass away.

Prior to leaving Baltimore, I made the painful decision to re-home my precious rescue cat Mia, who was my housemate and best feline friend for seven years. Tears are in my eyes and a lump in my throat as I recall the events leading to this toughest of decisions. Furthermore, I have witnessed the hurt, dismay and loss that is experienced by community residents who have given up their pets.

In my next Joan’s Journey, I will explain why I left Mia in Baltimore and why a careful consideration to re-home – not relocate – one’s pet is needed. In addition, anecdotes of animal neglect by seniors who truly love their pets, but are unable to adequately meet their basic needs, reinforce the justification to limit pet ownership in senior communities.

I am not advocating pet-less lives in senior communities. In fact, after six months of settling into senior living, I adopted a fluffy, sweet, fun, four-month-old feline princess, Heather, who is being raised to embrace the new lifestyle I lead. Join me in the next Joan’s Journey as we explore suggested criteria for successful pet ownership at senior living.

Do you or a senior in your life own a pet? What responsibilities does pet ownership entail when you’re a senior? and I invite your comments on our Facebook Web site, on Twitter, and in the Comments section of Joan’s Journey. Until the next post, enjoy your journey day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

Joan’s Journey: How to Find Harmony in Senior Living

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. As I age, simple pleasures have more meaning and are ever so cherished. For example, a few nights ago, my lifelong friend Ellen came to share dinner with me at Holiday Village East (HVE). The decision was last minute.

Ellen’s daughter Deanna and her friends were headed to a free summer concert on the Pier at Santa Monica beach. Ellen and I discussed joining the gals but decided our senior joints preferred chairs to beach blankets. My dining table chairs settled our dinner plans.

Having guests for dinner at HVE involves a phone call with a selection of food choices to the front desk staff. For a nominal $5 fee per person, guests are welcome in the dining room or one’s apartment. Ellen arrived, dinner was delivered, and we enjoyed our effortless meal of a fresh garden salad, spaghetti, meatballs, cauliflower, garlic bread and chocolate ice cream.

We finished dinner and retreated to my balcony where we watched the beautiful sunset turn from sky blue to adobe pink to ink black. When the Pacific Ocean breezes turned chilly, we moved inside and enjoyed watching television together until Deanna arrived to take Ellen home.

Learn more about how Joan is one of the lucky seniors, because she is functioning at Maslow’s Level 5: Self-Actualization in Joan’s Journey, Part 33.

Joan’s Journey: How Aging Can Affect Family Dynamics

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. Once upon a time, not very long ago, an elderly man and an elderly woman moved into to my senior living community, Holiday Villa East (HVE) in Santa Monica. Arthur and Gretchen, as I have named them, moved to HVE on the same week. They both had lost spouses and were in declining mental and physical health. Our protagonists quickly settled into life at HVE and all was well—or was it?

I have a tale to tell, a true tale told recently to me by Sam Rosenberg, executive director of HVE. The moral of Rosenberg’s story, which I agree with, is key to understanding the complex components to successful senior living when close to family.

Gretchen, 85, had a daughter Gloria, who was her closest relative and Rosenberg’s family contact. Arthur, also 85, had a son James. Likewise, James was his Dad’s family contact. Initially, both adult children routinely visited their parents.

As time went by, Gretchen and Arthur’s health diminished. On days when James visited, Arthur was foulmouthed, even downright nasty to his son. This behavior is a well-known symptom of some forms of dementia. Despite the outbursts, James faithfully visited his dad, each time arriving with personal items, favorite foods and small surprises. One afternoon while James visited, Arthur’s behavior was particularly offensive. An aide called Rosenberg to Arthur’s unit.

Rosenberg recalls asking James why he continued to visit his dad when his father was consistently rude and disrespectful. James answered simply, “Because he’s my Dad!” Arthur lived a long and comfortable life in harmony with his surroundings and son.

Gretchen’s story isn’t so pleasant. As time passed, Gretchen refused to dress stylishly, fix her hair or wear makeup. Her behavior was symptoms of her worsening physical and mental conditions. Gloria, on the other hand, arrived for visits bedecked for a red carpet event. Dismayed by her mother’s behavior, Gloria insisted that Gretchen improve her appearance. When the pleading and insistence, and then criticism failed to change her mother’s behavior, Gloria visited Rosenberg’s office. “This is my last visit,” she declared. Taken aback, Rosenberg asked why. Gloria answered simply, “Because she’s not my Mother anymore.”

Gloria said funds for her mother’s rent, personal care and physical needs would be sent monthly, but family would no longer visit. Rosenberg recalls sadly that Gretchen, a sweet and gentle woman whose face lit up when her family visited, never again saw her daughter, grandchildren or great grandchildren. The sparkle left Gretchen’s eyes and she died alone.

Joan’s Journeyers, why am I sharing Rosenberg’s tale?

In last month’s, Joan’s Journey post, Rosenberg and I referred to motivational psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. The theory proposes five variable levels: 1) basic life needs of air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, and sleep; 2) security, order, law, limits, and stability; 3) family, affection, relationships, work and groups; 4) achievement, status, responsibility, and reputation; and 5) personal growth and fulfillment. Lower level needs must be met before fulfilling needs at a higher level.

In the upcoming Joan’s Journey, I will explore Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as it relates to the tale of Arthur, Gretchen and other seniors. In addition, I will consider the pros and cons of seniors moving to a senior living community close to their children. Until the next Joan’s Journey, enjoy the trip day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

New Comparison Tool for Independent Living and Memory Care Costs

You can research the price of a new car, a college and a house to help you narrow down your choices before taking a drive or a tour. Yet if you search most senior living providers’ websites for the community’s monthly cost, you will be hard-pressed to find a dollar amount. If there is a mention of costs, it generally references what is included in the monthly fee, such as rent and services, but does not give the full amount you will be writing a check for each month. Instead they encourage you to call and take a tour to answer your questions.

Online directories which serve as a one-stop-resource to search for senior living communities may include the starting cost of a community on its profile page. However, you cannot easily compare the pricing of nearby communities without clicking back and forth between profiles. Some sites even lock this pricing behind a form that you must complete to view the pricing.

At, we don’t think either experience allows you to easily search for senior living options, whether for yourself or for your aging parents and relatives.

That’s why we recently updated our City pages for Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care to include the median costs of senior living communities within that city and the surrounding area. This way you can search one place for the cost information and narrow down your search for the communities within your price range.

To the right is an example of the Independent Living options in Atlanta. You can sort the list either by Community or Starting Price by clicking on the arrows. We also include the nearby communities to provide you with more options to consider. To learn more about any community, click its name to be taken to its profile page.

If you experience sticker shock when you see the monthly price, keep in mind the number of amenities and services included:  rent, utilities (generally excludes telephone and cable), dining services, laundry services, housekeeping and transportation. For memory care communities, personal care services may also be included in the monthly price or may be extra.

We obtain this cost data directly from the senior living communities and update the information as new pricing is received. Please be aware that this cost data is for informational purposes only and your actual senior living costs, upon joining a community, may vary for a variety of reasons not limited to availability and your personal situation. Should you need further help narrowing down your search, consider chatting with one of our Family Advisors who will be able to give you a better sense of the costs you can expect.


Joan’s Journey: A Senior’s Quandary—To Move or Not to Move Near Loved Ones

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers to my July musings. As a senior, considering to move closer to loved ones seems like a no-brainer. What better solution to the inevitability of old age than proximity to the people dearest to us?

Now take a deep breath and reflect upon the question. Moving and living closer to relatives is not a one-way decision; it is a decision that a senior and their adult children, and in most cases, many more folks have input in. Whether moving across town, across counties or across the country, as I did, moving closer to family or significant others is a shared, life-changing experience.

I am one of the fortunate seniors, says Sam Rosenberg, executive director, Holiday Villa East, (HVE), an independent living community in Santa Monica, California. An attorney with 30 years of assisting seniors and their families, Rosenberg has a wealth of knowledge and is a gold mine of anecdotes relating to successful and not-so-successful seniors who move to live closer to dear ones.

Happily, Rosenberg notes that I have the recipe for successful senior living near my family because: 1) I chose to move to senior living, 2) I chose the location after consulting and planning with my family on both coasts, and 3) I chose the senior community where I live.

Learn more about how choosing to move near family involves the entire family and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs  in Joan’s Journey, Part 32.