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Making Friends at an Assisted Living

“Making Friends at an Assisted Living” is a new column written by Rick Weisberg   in the Jewish Journal.  The series addresses the needs of seniors and their families. Take a look:

Senior Solutions

by Rick Weisberg

Special to the Journal 

Q: My mom is considering moving to an assisted living in the Boston area, but I am worried that she will be lonely. She doesn’t play cards and is not one for participating in group activities. How will she make friends? The thought of leaving her there alone is making me anxious.

A: Moving one’s parent into an assisted living can be a traumatic experience for the entire family. Grown-up children often compare it to the first day of school – only this is a reverse scenario! Remember that feeling when you left your child alone at school or day care for the first time? It’s emotional and nerve-wracking, to say the least.

There are, however, strategies you can employ that will help seniors acclimate to a new living environment. First, enlist the help of the Executive Director, Marketing Director and Wellness Director in introducing your parent to other residents. They know all the residents well and can put your mom or dad together with other residents who share similar interests and backgrounds.

Meal times, of course, are key to making friends at an assisted living.  The  staff will place your parent at a table the very first day. If, after a few days, your mom or dad is not happy, do not hesitate to ask – even insist – upon changing tables. Meals are an important part of the socialization process and finding the right table mates is crucial. Sometimes it just takes a few weeks to get the right mix of individuals.

Making friends at an assisted living
Staff and resident relationships are an integral part of the assisted living experience

Staff and resident relationships are an integral part of the assisted living experience. Often, these are the relationships that come first and mean so much to the elders and their families. Keep in mind that staff members visit with residents throughout the day, alleviating loneliness and fostering communications. They are also a terrific resource for the family. Most facilities encourage family members to call or email staff members so they can check-in on how one’s parent is adjusting to the transition.

Recreational planned activities are obviously a great way to make friends. Some people resist scheduled events and that is absolutely fine. But who doesn’t enjoy weekly spa and salon appointments? These routine events inevitably lead to friendships among both the staff and the residents themselves. Encourage your parent to go to the café for a light snack, read in the library or just sit outside on the patio. There are always people out and about.

All assisted livings host family days with special events for the residents and their families. This is a wonderful way to meet new people. Talking with other families who are going through the same situation can be extremely helpful.

Like any new situation, the transition to an assisted living is complicated. But you’ll be amazed how quickly seniors adapt to new surroundings, especially when they are relieved of cooking, cleaning and housekeeping responsibilities. Give it three months and I suspect one day you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see your mom or dad are introducing new friends. In fact, he or she may even cancel plans with you because of a busy social calendar. Now, wouldn’t that make you feel good?

Send questions about senior issues to rick@assistedlivingnationwide.com, call 617-513-7067 or mail to Senior Solutions, 27 Congress Street, Suite 501, Salem, MA 01970. Rick Weisberg is president of Assisted Living Nationwide, a firm that helps seniors and their families find the most appropriate assisted living facility, based on the family’s criteria. There are no fees for his services. Rick is also a realtor and is affiliated Benoit Mizner Simon & Co.

Choosing an Assisted Living Location

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Today there are more options than ever before in choosing an assisted living facility (ALF). There are, in fact, thousands of ALF’s across the country. How does a couple or individual decide which geographic location would be best? Most likely, there will be an assisted living in whichever location you decide to live.

Here, from Assisted Living Nationwide, are some guidelines on how to choose the right assisted living location:

Live Near Your Children

As you age, family is so important, for many reasons, including socialization and health care decisions. Residing in an assisted living close to one or more family members is a plus for both the elder and the family. Make it as easy as possible for families to visit the ALF.

Choose Your Setting

Decide upon a suburban or city setting. Maybe you are one who likes the outdoors with walking trails, gardens and many acres to explore. Or maybe, you like the city with access to theatre, movies, museums, restaurants etc. Do consider the interests, hobbies and lifestyle of the senior before touring an ALF.

Weathering On

As you age, those long winters are quite depressing. There is a reason why there are so many assisted living facilities in such states as Florida, Arizona and California. This is definitely the plus-side to living in a warm climate in your later years. All other factors being equal, this can be a very pleasant environment for an assisted living.

 Move Back to the City Where You were Born

Not surprisingly, many people move back to the area where they grew up. There are memories, connections and familiarity. Your childhood friends my still live in the area or even be residents at the ALF of your choice.

The good news is that today people have more options than ever before in choosing an assisted living facility. Think of this next step as an exciting life choice. It may very well turn out to be the best decision for you you — and yout entire family.

What Is a CCRC?

These days, everything has an abbreviation. CCRC is short for a Continuing Care Retirement Community. These properties consist of an Independent Living Residence, Assisted Living Facility (ALF) and a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). The prevailing theory of a CCRC: seniors could have access to a continuum of care as they age – and their needs change over time. It’s an appealing concept on many levels, but let’s delve into these communities a bit more.

First of all, you need a good size parcel of land for three buildings. In addition, you need a large staff to care for all the residents. Sate licenses are also required for the ALF’s and SNF’s. Moreover, research has shown that many residents of the independent living facilities do not like the idea of ALF and SNF’s on the same campus. Instead, many seniors are choosing independent-only properties. As a result, there are not many CCRC being built today.

In terms of cost, the original CCRC’s utilized the “buy- in” model, not rentals. A large deposit was required (up to $250,000. which was 90% refundable when the apartment was resold) plus a monthly fee. The buy-in model is not used very often these days; most CCRC’s have changed to a monthly rental format.

CCRC’s were built for individuals and couples who wanted to move into a residence while they were still independent and would never have to leave the community. On paper, it is an attractive model. The reality, however, is that the overall expense and logistics have limited the number of CCRC’s in the country. Assisted Living Nationwide maintains a list of all the CCRC’s throughout the United States. This model of care is definitely an alternative to assisted living facilities and could very well be the best choice for some seniors.

 

What You Need to Know About Food at Assisted Living Facilities

The food at assisted living facilities is always a prime topic of conversation. Historically, assisted living facilities offered basic dishes with few choices. The good news: today’s assisted livings are focusing on healthy meals made with fresh, seasonal ingredients. Gone are the days when canned, frozen and salt-laden foods were the norm. Today, on-staff dieticians and professional trained chefs join forces to create meals that are both nutritious and delicious.

What should families expect in terms of dining options at an assisted living facility? Many feature 24 hour cafes, room service, experienced wait staff, formal dining rooms and causal gathering spaces. Holidays showcase traditional favorite foods and rituals.  Additionally, residents and families have the option of celebrating these special days at the resident’s home.

Food Plays A Key Role

Rick Weisberg, president of Assisted Living Nationwide , works with clients all across the country. He has found that food is one of the most important considerations for elders and their families. Weisberg advises clients to eat at least one meal at the assisted living prior to deciding whether to move-in. “Obviously, it makes sense to discover, first hand, the quality of the food,” notes Weisberg, “but it’s also important to observe the social interaction among the residents and the staff.”

When an elder is used to preparing his or her own food, it is definitely a transition to having to eat at specified time —  in the company of other people. But keep in mind that meal times at assisted living facilities are an integral part of the day. This is a time for all residents to come together and socially interact. And for those residents who choose not to participate in many of the scheduled activities, meals become even more important.

These days, many assisted livings pride themselves on a caliber of food service in line with a five-star hotel. The presentation of the food is as important as the taste. The menus change daily; there are amenities such as frozen yogurt machines, cappuccino offerings, make-your-own omelet bars and freshly baked cookies and cakes. Adjusting to meal times might not be such a difficult transition after all.

Making the Transition to Assisted Living

The first time you leave your mom or dad (or both) at an assisted living is similar to leaving your child at pre-school or daycare. It’s frightening. Even though you know in your heart that it’s the right thing to do, you feel anxious, indecisive and – in all probability – a bit guilty. Certainly, that’s a typical reaction, but there are things you can do to make those first days and weeks as seamless as possible. Below, from Assisted Living Nationwide, are a few tips to consider:

Visit the assisted living for lunch or dinner a few days prior to the move-in

Ask the staff to introduce your mom or dad to a few residents and other staff members. This allows you both to become familiar with the dining room and the residents. Plan your visit for a week day, when most residents are on-site.

 

Establish lines of communication with the Executive Director and Director of Resident Care

They will have first-hand knowledge of your family member and can address any concerns or monitor the transition. Determine whether email or phone calls are the best option; feel free to ask as many questions as need be.

 

Personalize the apartment so it’s warm and inviting

It’s important to mix prized possession s like photos, artworks and memorabilia with new accent pieces and decorative touches. Photo collages are the perfect wall décor, adding color and familiarity.

 

Check in with your mom or dad — within reason

Calling every few minutes or even hours will not help the residents during the transition. Set a schedule that works for both of your schedules during the first few weeks.

 

Don’t ask about the food!

You will hear about it no matter what. Food is the most popular topic on a daily basis.

Assisted Living Nationwide