Can you smell it? It’s the smell of bacon with just a hint of freshly brewed coffee. Subtle sun rays peek through the shades. Voices and laughter echo down the hallways and land on your ears as you slowly open your eyes.
Paradise? Nope. Your home? Could be. It’s the experience happening for so many at your local senior living community.
And if that’s one of the many amazing daily experiences happening with increasing frequency in assisted living and memory care communities across the country, why do so many people find it difficult to talk about senior living?
Oh, we get it. Knowing when you and your family need to talk about senior living can be difficult. You’ve heard the scary stories of nursing home failures, and they haven’t painted a great picture in your mind of the options you and your loved one have. Some people also wrestle with very real, but somewhat unfair, feelings of guilt about giving up on caring for their parent or taking the easy way out. Yeah, the bad-boy providers are out there, but remember, every senior living option is designed to improve an older adult’s health and happiness no matter what. Think about why the stereotype of senior living is clinical and sad, then tour these communities yourself to get a feel for what they really are.
They’re not nursing homes. Let’s leave that term in the past where it belongs. Most of the communities that have opened in the last few years are designed for living (ours include dinner margaritas, birthday piñatas, and dance parties). We’re not here to tell residents and families what to do with their lives. We’re here to build real community, enjoy incredible food, and create lifelong memories.
Now that we have our heads around what senior living actually is, let’s talk through a couple of the reasons people start thinking about moving—either moving themselves or starting the conversation with a loved one.
The beauty of aging means you have the best stories at every party you walk into. The filter fades and, boy, do the stories get good. But aging also means our health needs increase and the time commitment to attend to those needs increases too—for the aging person and often for the people who care about them. It’s inevitable. And at a certain point, we have to decide if that time and care is something we can manage or if we need more help. Only you can decide that.
We’re talking to every older adult but also to every adult child. If you’re stressed about your parent and worry too much about their safety, be upfront about it. Your physical and mental health are factors in this decision too.
Falling doesn’t automatically mean an older adult has to be put in a wheelchair (at least, not if we have anything to say about it). Sometimes, the solution is as easy as finding a new apartment on the garden level. When your loved one is living at home alone, the first step is to consider how safe your loved one feels. Think about what happens if they fall, if they have a memory lapse and forget to turn off the stove, if they don’t feel a sense of security, and other potential mishaps. These are things that can cause stress for all involved.
If you or your parent needs an extra hand or pair of eyes, educate yourself on your options by touring two or three senior living communities. Check out those garden-level apartments. If your loved one’s bedroom is upstairs, consider finding a cozy space downstairs to make it easier to get around their new digs.
Living alone all day every day wasn’t good for Tom Hanks in Cast Away, and it is not good for your loved one either. While teenagers all over the country are trying to prove us wrong, your closest friends shouldn’t be interacting only through a screen. People are designed to live and engage with others. Social isolation has been identified as a determinant of ongoing health issues, and human touch and laughter both have documented physiological benefits.
Unfortunately, as people age, they tend to pull away and seclude themselves. The interesting consideration is that most of these older people spent years and years of their life socializing around backyard barbeques, working every day, volunteering at their local school, or running errands about town. Too often, they look up and realize Pat Sajak or Bob Barker have become their most seen friends. Senior living options provide older adults with great options to create new friendships with people in the same season of life and with team members who are intergenerationally minded.
The best time to look for personality changes or mood swings is not after their favorite college football team gets beaten like a dirty rug. However, keep an eye out for uncharacteristic aggression or short tempers, because these can be early signs of dementia. And whether it’s a mental health issue, a symptom of dementia, or just a bad day, an assisted living community can help improve all of the above by effectively eliminating isolation, providing evidence-based insight, and encouraging regular social engagement through daily events and accessible community spaces.
If an older adult can’t remember Harrison Ford’s name for several seconds, that’s normal. If they have trouble remembering to take their medication or pay bills, that’s a problem. Memory lapses can be caused by a lot of things. At times, it’s just from minor dehydration or normal aging, but there’s a chance it could be from something that needs more attention, like a form of dementia or other diagnosed memory loss. No matter what the cause, having an extra friend, or even a memory care expert, around is going to help.
At a memory care community, you get the benefits of specialized care and intentional activities to exercise memory, engage people, and have fun. It’s one of our favorite daily experiences when we get to hear a childhood memory recounted from a person with such an abundance of experience, from collecting eggs on the family farm to flying planes in the U.S. Air Force. What’s it like to fly? Sometimes all we have to do is ask.
Whether a result of not being able to grocery shop and meal prep or a symptom of more serious health issues, weight loss and nutrition deficiencies are one of the most common reasons families consider an assisted living community. Think about it. Three square meals a day prepared by a chef with a culinary resume that would make Wolfgang Puck blush? That’s something we can all get on board with.
Want to hear a sentence no one has ever said before? “I have six colors of the rainbow in my daily medication schedule. I sure hope I can get all 7.” Adding more medications or more frequent doctor visits to any list of medical needs stinks. Keeping track of medicine changes in dosing or type can be hard to keep track of for anyone. Throw in difficulties with fine motor skills, and you suddenly need help opening your pill bottle. Moving into an assisted living community can ensure everything is taken care of, so your loved one can focus on really living. Do you know the seven colors of the rainbow? Here’s a hint: Roy G. Biv.
We all get tired after family dinner, so if Grandma is napping in the recliner, that’s normal. Scoot over and make some room. But decreased energy can also be a normal effect of aging, a sign of nutrition issues, a mental health symptom, or any number of other things. Daily difficulties can mean it’s not as easy for your loved one to keep up with household chores, prepare their own meals, or even get out of the house to meet up with friends. And that’s going to make all those things—aging, nutrition, mental health—more challenging. At a senior living community, those chores and meals are built in, so their energy can go to the things that matter the most: laughter, friendship, and new experiences. Anyone fancy a game of cornhole?
One of the most obvious bonuses to senior living is the built-in community. It’s Book Club, painting classes, and lunch with friends every single day. It’s an immediate, permanent network of friends who care and laugh and are always down for a good time. If an older adult doesn’t have neighbors, friends, or family who stop by when they’re living at home, make sure they feel supported. We all need a community; it’s how we thrive.
Driving and navigating public transportation already causes headaches, right? If you add worsening eyesight, memory loss, or problems with fine motor skills, it can even get frightening or dangerous. At an assisted living community, travel can be taken care of completely—which allows for even more fun outings. If your loved one is skipping a trip to the gym or the zoo because it’s too much hassle to get there, it’s time to think about a move that brings the fun to them.
If you’re still worried and you’re not sure what to look for, pay attention to any changes in physical health, mental health, and personality. Whether you’re the older adult or the adult child, don’t be afraid to bring these up. Having one or even a few problems doesn’t mean you’re going to lose freedom or lose the ability to make choices.
At our communities, we don’t treat safety like a prison. Safety should be a result of happiness, great relationships, confidence, and experiential knowledge. That means decisions are made together, and no one is losing freedom.
Don’t fret. Reach out for guidance and support. There are experts at senior living communities in your city who can help you make the best decision for your family.