Senior Living: Living Well

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A dip in the pool. Fine dining. Visits to museums and local attractions. Shopping. Socializing with friends.

Sound like a vacation itinerary or a fun weekend getaway? It's actually a snapshot of what many retirement communities offer these days.

As the population ages and lives longer-often staying more active, to boot-senior living facilities have evolved to provide not only lodging, but also lifestyle amenities.

More traditional skilled nursing facilities remain an option for senior citizens who may require around-the-clock care. But other seniors are simply looking to downsize, maybe unload the responsibility of maintaining their family home. Perhaps they've grown tired of living alone. Or they want to live closer to their grown children. Many are seeking on-site help for the little tasks that have become harder to manage.

"The power outage scared a lot of people," says Tiffany Ori, director of sales and marketing for Parkside Village Senior Living Community in Westerville, referring to storm-related outages in recent years that have lasted for several days.

The world of retirement living arrangements is competitive, with many communities offering a full range of programming and services to address seniors' varied needs, from ample opportunities to stay physically and socially active to skilled nursing and care for dementia and other conditions.

The growing emphasis on wellness, physical fitness and staying active has become a selling point. Modern exercise equipment, a pool, classes such as tai chi and yoga, personal trainers-such amenities are now the norm at many retirement communities.

"We've recently added massage therapy," says Joel Wrobbel, marketing director for Westminster-Thurber Community in Victorian Village, which is operated by Ohio Presbyterian Retirement Services. "That's a big thing I've seen."

So are classes that help seniors maintain and even increase their strength, stability and balance as well as meet their dietary and nutrition needs. "People want to be young and vibrant for as long as they can," says Colleen Krupp, marketing coordinator for Wesley Ridge Retirement Community in Reynoldsburg.

Some retirement facilities are taking it up another notch. Wesley Glen, a sister facility to Wesley Ridge (both are owned and operated by Methodist ElderCare, a not-for-profit affiliate of the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church), opened its new Wellness Center in March.

The center features a full-size lap pool and state-of-the-art warm water therapy pool with a movable floor and underwater treadmill that's especially useful for rehabilitation following knee and hip replacement surgery. The new center also includes a fitness facility, occupational and physical therapy space, a health clinic and juice bar. It's open to the public for a fee, and Clintonville-area neighbors in particular are encouraged to stop by. "It helps them to know Wesley Glen," says Lauren Croman, marketing coordinator at Wesley Glen.

Population Shift

Wellness goes beyond physical health at many communities. "Mentally, cognitively, spiritually-all of these are keys of the wellness wheel," says Croman.

Wrobbel agrees, noting that intellectual and vocational wellness also contribute to a person's sense of purpose and desire to stay active and involved. He's noticed a shift in what folks are searching for in senior housing. "In assisted living, I guess we're recognizing that there are some individuals that are sort of in between," Wrobbel says. These residents don't require regular care, but are not completely independent. To better serve this population, Westminster-Thurber offers a care hybrid called the Covington Club.

"There's not necessarily a nursing presence. There are not nurses on the floor or medicine carts on the floor," Wrobbel says of the 15 studio and two-bedroom apartment arrangement. Yet that care is readily available if needed. "The pricing is not quite as expensive as traditional assisted living care," he adds.

Wrobbel also has noticed a slight demographic shift in those who choose to call Westminster-Thurber home. "I see people moving in at a younger age-their late 60s, early 70s, mid-70s," he says. "A lot of people used to wait until they were in their 80s."

Why the change? For one thing, Wrobbel says, "They see real value in the camaraderie they can have."

For seniors still enjoying good health, the decision to move from their own home to a retirement community often is precipitated by a desire to downsize or shed home maintenance responsibilities and chores such as yardwork and snow shoveling.

"It was time for somebody else to mow the yard, to have smaller living quarters. We didn't need a big house," says Frank Himes, a longtime Upper Arlington resident who, along with his wife, Dee, moved into a patio home at Wesley Glen several years ago.

The move also allowed the couple, who are in their 80s, to live closer to their daughter. Moving farther from their Upper Arlington friends didn't put an end to their social lives, Frank Himes says. "You get acquainted with a lot of people. They're interesting people. They've had interesting lives."

It's not uncommon for seniors to choose independent and assisted living facilities close to where their adult children live-even if it means picking up and moving to another city or state.

Many want their pets to be a part of the move. "We are a pet-friendly community," Wrobbel says. "We've sort of been out in the forefront of that for 15, 20 years. We believe it's the right thing to do."

"We do have a lot of pets," Parkside Village's Ori says. "It's a very big deal." It can even be a deal breaker for some potential residents.

Many senior housing complexes have community pets. "We have a community dog and a community cat," says Kim Vail, director of community relations at Sunrise of Gahanna.

In Westminster-Thurber's nursing care facilities, Wrobbel says animals offer companionship and a way for folks to stay connected-"whether it's a cat sitting on someone's lap or the variety and spontaneity pets add to the day that affects your mood, your whole demeanor."

Trips and Transportation

The availability of regular transportation often is another significant factor for seniors considering a move to independent or assisted living communities. "People come in a lot asking about transportation," says Ori. "They may still drive, but in the back of their minds they probably know they shouldn't be." Others rely on family, friends or neighbors to drive them to the doctor or grocery store and have grown tired of that dependency.

Beyond knowing that a facility has its own transportation, some active seniors want other options so they can stay on the go. "I had a high criterion that there was public transportation near the retirement home," says Frank Himes.

He says living at Wesley Glen just north of Graceland Shopping Center, where COTA buses regularly run along High Street, provides more than just convenient transportation for him and his neighbors. "It provides access for the workers to get here," he says, "so you can maintain a good workforce."

Road trips, mostly of the day-long variety, are widely offered. They provide the opportunity to socialize, stimulate thinking and satisfy interests. Outings also serve practical purposes, such as grocery shopping or running an errand at Target.

Wesley Glen's shuttle bus is frequently in use. "They go to the movies, to BalletMet," says Croman. "They've taken a trip to the German Village house tour and eaten lunch at Schmidt's."

"One day we took a trip to Greenlawn Cemetery and thoroughly enjoyed the history of that," Frank Himes says. "We've gone to the Harding House in Marion. We went to the Scioto Mile for an afternoon after it opened."

For residents who aren't as mobile or prefer not to leave as frequently, many communities provide on-site services. "We have a bank that comes here one day a week. There is a general store, a beauty parlor, a library," Frank Himes says.

His wife appreciates the partnership the facility has with the Columbus Metropolitan Library, which regularly replenishes books in Wesley Glen's library. "I volunteer with the library," Dee Himes says. "We have an excellent library here."

Many facilities have activity or life enrichment directors who develop a calendar of events and activities to keep residents active and engaged. Often, resident committees help decide what to add to the social calendar.

At Westminster-Thurber, a program called The Owls-Older, Wiser, Lifelong Scholars-features month-long college-level courses each October that are chosen by a resident committee. Four, two-hour sessions are taught by area college professors, Wrobbel says.

Other Amenities

Interest in technology and computer use is generally high among residents. Wi-Fi has almost become a standard, and computer labs are widely available. Training sessions are offered, too.

"Because we have a nice relationship with the Ohio State University, we have different programming in which students will come in and explore some of these technology issues with our residents," Wrobbel says. "It's not just about living in a retirement community," he says. "We want them to thrive in a retirement community."

Seniors may get the opportunity to explore new interests through various clubs and groups, or continue to participate in activities they've enjoyed in for years, such as a bowling or golf league.

At Wesley Glen, groups get together weekly to play euchre and bridge. Other regular gatherings include guests who talk about travel as well as musicians and school groups who come to perform.

Dining, too, has become a priority. Some communities are even introducing coffee houses and pubs. "People are looking for more of a fine dining experience," says Krupp.

Wesley Glen offers a buffet and table service meals. "Being waited on is becoming more and more popular," Croman says. It's nice not to have to cook if you don't feel like it, Dee Himes points out.

Many residents still enjoy cooking for themselves and want kitchen space included. At Sunrise of Gahanna, living arrangements are organized into small neighborhoods. "Each little neighborhood has 12 apartments that share a common area," Vail says. "There is a large gathering area, a large dining area and a very large kitchen they can utilize."

To feed the mind, Sunrise of Gahanna provides numerous cognitive activities-"we call them brain games," says Vail-as well as occupational, physical and other therapies related to memory care and serving Alzheimer's patients.

Sunrise (which has four Columbus-area communities), Parkside Village and other facilities that care for dementia and Alzheimer's patients provide living arrangements to keep residents safe and secure. The specialized interaction and activities "give them a much better quality day" than they might otherwise get, Ori says.

Family involvement is encouraged. "We have family night once a week," says Vail, "and we do provide a family support group once a month."

With people living longer and baby boomers reaching senior citizenship, demand for retirement housing remains high. Parskide Village, which opened in 2012, is one of 19 Central Ohio senior housing communities operated by Lutheran Social Services. Wesley Ridge is building a new skilled nursing facility. Westminster-Thurber is accepting reservations for the planned Goodale Landing. The high-end, condo-style apartments with amenities such as four-season sunrooms, modern kitchens and underground parking carry a $175,000 entrance fee and a monthly service fee of $2,450.

One trend Ori has noticed when hosting visitors at Parkside Village is that baby boomers shopping with their parents are getting an education of their own. "For the most part, they imagined [us] as skilled nursing facilities-nursing homes," she says. "Increasingly, they are seeing what great options are out there."

As a result, they are already starting to think about where they may choose to live a decade or two down the road and what amenities they'll be looking for.

Debbie Briner is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the December 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.