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What Makes a Community senior-friendly?

Assisted Living settings Are More Different than similar

by Tait TRUssELL, Senior Wire

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by ChRistiNa HORsFORD

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Christina Horsford, MSW, MPA is an assisted living companion expert. For more information about Assisted Living Comparison Experts, visit ALCE.unc.edu

A study, Livable Community Indicators for Sustainable Aging in Place, points to the best communities for those who are aging. Those communities offer accessible transportation, affordable housing opportunities, (if seniors should want to downsize their housing) neighborhood safety, support services connected with health care, familiar retail outlets, opportunities for social integration, and walkability. Indications are that senior needs can be met using information that is readily available and adaptable to local governments, said the study. The study was produced by the Stanford Center on Longevity and the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The Institute, in earlier research, found that people generally prefer to remain where they are as they age. Communities can now make assessments and begin to implement change with readily available public data, said Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Amanda Lehning, who collaborated with the Stanford Center on Longevity on the

lmost one million people live in assisted living residences, but few people who are in the market for assisted living realize how very different these settings can be. All assisted living residences provide supportive care, but they don’t all offer the same services, or for the same price. Residences differ in if they provide personal care (like bathing or using the toilet), housekeeping, laundry, special diets, help with medications, transportation, and recreation, and what they charge for these services. Also important is, who is allowed to move in and remain in the setting if the need for care increases? Assisted living residences differ in whether they’ll allow people to move in and remain there if they have needs such as a wheelchair or help eating, or in managing dementia symptoms. Because needs can be hard to predict, and tend to increase over time, it’s important to understand what a residence will allow. The number and type of people who are on staff are important also, as more staff translates into the ability to provide more care, and if they’re nurses, they can attend to medical needs. Not all assisted living residences have nurses, though, and those that do may have them for part of the day— which means they may not be there when needed. At an even more basic level, assisted living settings vary in how much they feel like “home.” While some settings serve as few as four people, others serve hundreds. Depending on how you define “home,” it may be easier to find that feeling in a smaller residence. Other areas that affect the feeling of home include whether people share a room or bathroom, whether there is space when families visit, and if pets are allowed. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—Sheryl Zimmerman (a social worker) and Philip Sloane (a physician)—have worked in assisted living for more than 20 years, talked with thousands of people, and learned how little many people understand about assisted living and how to choose the one that best meets their unique needs and preferences. They learned that most people don’t realize the differences in assisted living settings, and so don’t know to ask the questions that matter most. Not knowing what to ask is a serious problem because choosing assisted living is a critical decision. Why critical? Five reasons: (1) The right choice can improve quality of life, while the wrong choice can cause worry and problems; (2) The wrong choice can require a second move, which is additionally disruptive and costly; (3) The average cost of an assisted living stay is almost $80,000, making the right choice an important financial one; (4) Making the right choice is timeconsuming, requiring weeks of telephone calls and Internet searches; and (5) Internet searches may be misleading because the information is often incomplete, imprecise, outdated, and designed to attract customers. To fix this problem, the researchers created a non-profit website, Assisted Living Comparison Experts. Assisted Living Comparison Experts lists all assisted living settings in North Carolina, and allows people to search and compare among them based on differences in their residence options, dementia and other care needs, staffing, activities and policies on pets, available services, and costs. It allows people to post reviews so you get information from people who have lived and visited there. And, because the information on Assisted Living Comparison Experts has been collected and compiled by researchers— not advertisers or marketing companies—it is unbiased and allows you to compare residences to find the one that best meets your unique needs.

t’s an indisputable fact of life that most seniors prefer to live where they are as they grow older. That location is where their friends—and often their families and their doctors and drug and grocery stores—are. There’s comfort in the familiar. What is new is that local governments can follow a low cost and relatively simple set of indicators to determine whether or not the services in a seniors community meets their needs and expectations.

report, said that although every community is unique, local governments should think about how best to adapt these indicators to best meet the needs of their residents. Efforts to help older residents who want to stay in place also can improve the community as a whole. They make valuable neighbors, caregivers and volunteers. And they patronize local businesses. Following are critical characteristics seen as an age-friendly livable community: 1. Accessible and affordable housing. Zoning laws that permit flexible housing, such as assisted living facilities or private homes on small lots. 2. Mass transit with senior transport programs, walkable areas safe for pedestrians. 3. Safe neighborhoods with low crime rates and emergency plans that take into account needs of senior residents. 4. An adequate number of physicians, including specialists, hospitals with preventable-care programs. 5. Home and community-based care-giving support services, the availability of home health care, meals-on-wheels, and adult care. 6. Retail outlets within walking distance, restaurants and grocery stores offering healthy foods, and policies supporting farmers markets. 7. Programs and organizations that promote social activities and intergenerational contact. Places of worship, libraries. 8. Museums and colleges, if feasible. The indicator system in the report was developed using these sources: a review of existing livable communities, a review of existing research literature on community characteristics that have an impact on senior health and well-being and ability to age in place, and interviews with aging-in-place experts. Of course, many communities may well have other priorities. But the study does show how providing the indicated facilities and policies can make life more livable for those who want to grow older where they presently reside. The mission of the Stanford Center on Longevity is to redesign long life, the report said. The Center studies the nature and development of the human life span looking for innovative ways to use science and technology to solve the problems of people over 50. The MetLife Mature Market Institute has had 16 years of research on senior issues.

June 2013 Boom! Magazine  

Boom! Magazine™ is a monthly lifestyle magazine serving the boomer generations with articles on health and wellness, travel, leisure and fin...

June 2013 Boom! Magazine  

Boom! Magazine™ is a monthly lifestyle magazine serving the boomer generations with articles on health and wellness, travel, leisure and fin...

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