The question I most encounter when speaking with friends, family members and acquaintances about seniors housing is: How do you get a reluctant family member of advanced age living alone to agree to move to seniors housing? It doesn’t seem to matter if the family member is 79 or 99, there is still a strong reluctance on the part of many of today’s seniors to move to any type of seniors housing despite objective information that such a move improves socialization, nutrition and overall health and wellness, and may increase longevity.
While “How to get a reluctant family member to move?” may be the quintessential question to which families would like an answer, I find very little useful information on the web and from seniors housing organizations on how to address this question. In order to seek an answer for myself and for those who ask me about it, I interviewed a 97 year-old friend and former neighbor who made the decision to move to a CCRC about 18 months ago. I wanted to understand her decision to move, what finally convinced her to move and how her experience has been since moving to her CCRC. For the purpose of this blog, we will call her Ms. F.
Ms. F is a remarkable person in many ways but I believe her decision to move to seniors housing and her experience after she arrived are still illustrative for others. As I indicated, Ms. F is 97 years old. She moved from the large, single family home where she raised her family to a condominium in 1979, when she was only 60, partly due the health of her husband who died seven years later. She continued to live in a full-service elevator-served condominium with a wide-range of resident ages until 2014, when she made the move to a CCRC. In her condo, Ms. F had occasional cleaning help but lived independently and drove. When living at her condo, Ms. F attended a Pilates class once a week, played 9-holes of golf regularly through 2013 and had an active social and cultural life. Ms. F is college educated, cultured, very well dressed and had enough wealth so that all housing and care options were available to her.
The discussion of a move to seniors housing started with Ms. F’s children, the oldest of whom is 74, about three years before Ms. F’s decision to move. Her children, who live in another city at least six month of the year, were concerned about her living on her own and continuing to drive. Ms. F indicated she finally agreed to move to a CCRC to make her children happy and because after a bout of pneumonia in the winter of 2013 she did not bounce back completely to her previous stamina. The discussions for her to move also began after her significant-other, with whom she had a very long-term relationship, died.
Ms. F’s reluctance to move to a CCRC or another type of seniors housing primarily arose from the fact that moving to such a facility would require her to “admit she was old”, something she had never really done despite being 95 at the time of her move. Ms. F, like many in the current generation of Roaring Twenties Babies in their 80s and 90s, also saw moving to seniors housing in a negative light because it indicated to her that she could no longer live on her own and she saw it as giving up some of her independence.
One of the key lessons I took from Ms. F’s experience is that us Baby Boomers, the children of today’s 80 and 90 year-olds, tend to see their parents as very old, frail people in need of care while many seniors do not view themselves as old and cherish their independence. This suggests that any conversation about a move to seniors housing should not begin with the senior’s frailties but how such a move could enhance and prolong independence. It would be better for us Boomers to approach these discussions thinking about the attributes of senior housing that we would find attractive because a seniors’ view of him or her self, if still healthy and not cognitively impaired, sees 80 or even 90 as the new 60.
The other clear lesson from Ms. F’s experience, and that of other seniors and their families that I have observed, is that the decision to move to seniors housing, if made voluntarily, is often a prolonged process that can stretch to a year or more. It is also important to realize that senior housing facilities offer a broad range of housing and lifestyle choices and may involve trade-offs between housing and lifestyle amenities, something that seniors and, in many cases, their children may not understand. Visits and short-term stays, which many facilities offer, can help a senior and their families get to know a facility well before committing to move.
It is also worth noting that a mixed-age full-service condominium served Ms. F very well as a housing choice for 35 years, from the time she was 60 until she was 95. With the growing availability of smart-phone accessed transportation, grocery and food delivery and home care services, it is important for the seniors housing industry to realize that well-designed, mixed-age apartments and condominiums can be a very viable option for many seniors and that seniors may prefer such options that don’t require them to “admit they are old”.
Ms. F and her family did not undertake an exhaustive search of senior housing facilities because they were looking for something high-end and were familiar with many of the choices because Ms. F, at 95, knew people living at a number of the likely choices. The facility Ms. F chose was relatively close to her condominium, offered extensive educational and cultural programming, which appealed to her, and had friendly and welcoming staff. The downside of the community Ms. F chose was that it dates from 1984 and did not offer some of the amenities within its units and common areas of other facilities that were newer or which had undergone extensive renovations. Ms. F looked at a number of different units before she found one on an upper floor that had enough natural light to make it appealing. Ms. F moved from a modern three-bedroom, two-bath condo with larger windows and lots of light to an oversized one-bedroom, one-bath senior housing unit. She believes the size of the unit is fine but would prefer a larger bath and a separate powder room for when she has quests. Ms. F’s focus on a welcoming staff, light in units and other factors dovetail well with industry studies of independent living customer satisfaction. (See my blog on Finding Happiness In Seniors Housing https://robustretirement.com/2015/08/20/finding-happiness-in-senior-housing/).
It is worth noting that the CCRC to which Ms. F moved is about to undertake a major expansion and renovation that will add larger independent living apartments in response to demand, add a memory care section and renovate public areas to update the look and add casual café-style dining in addition to the formal dining room.
Ms. F’s transition to a CCRC has been relatively easy for her. She only knew one person well at the CCRC when she moved but Ms. F was able to make friends quickly. Today Ms. F gets around without a walker but does worry about falling and is careful when she walks. Ms. F was still driving at the time she moved to a CCRC but not long after she arrived she had a minor traffic accident and decided to give up driving. However, using the CCRCs and private transportation services, Ms. F still gets to her Pilates class once a week and to cultural events (She will be traveling to New York soon to see Hamilton) and she has added personal fitness training at the CCRC and is attending many of the programs that the facility offers, including a current lecture series on the Supreme Court planned before Justice Scalia’s death.
I believe Ms. F’s attitude toward her move to a CCRC also eased her transition. Rather than focus on the space she was giving up and the things she was leaving behind, Ms. F chose to view her move as an opportunity. She got help from a decorator to design and furnish her new home, bought some new things and recovered some of the furniture she chose to move from her condominium. So she made it a new beginning rather than a move down.
Ms. F is very positive on her CCRC now that she has moved and agrees that she may have benefitted from moving sooner. But Ms. F doubts she could have made the decision to move until she started to notice herself slowing down following her pneumonia, had lost her significant other and was ready to admit she was old. One of the benefits she sees at the CCRC is knowing other couples that are older than her but still mentally active and able to get around. Her close friends at the facility include a couple that are 102 and, while he uses a walker, are still in very good health and very alert.
Top on Ms. F’s list of what makes her CCRC a good place to live are:
- Activities/Programming – special events (St. Patrick’s Day and Easter Dinners for example), movies including first run movies such as Spotlight and Brooklyn, Lectures that cost residents $25 and outsiders $125, religious services, entertainment every Wednesday and other events like a forum for local mayoral candidates.
- Volunteer Opportunities
- In-House Exercise Programs and therapy
- Housekeeping Services that include weekly linen service, biweekly cleaning and an annual complete unit cleaning as part of the base rate and PAL service that for $21 per hour provide additional light cleaning, laundry and making the bed.
- Friendly Staff who know you by name and friendly residents. Many of the staff are African American high school students interested in careers in healthcare or food service/hospitality industry that the facility trains.
- Someone Looking Out For You – It is comforting knowing there is always someone there for you. The facility has an electronic monitoring system that can tell if you are not up moving around your unit by a certain time and uses other checks such as attending meals and taking in your paper to check to be sure you are all right, as well as emergency alert system.
- A Healthy Future – Ms. F can see that she is not the oldest and certainly healthier than some others.