Life Styled

While the decision to move isn't easy, many seniors find an improved lifestyle in today's independent living communities.

Doris Wilson's family had tried to sell her on the benefits of moving into a senior living facility. But despite maintaining her home and caring for her husband, who had suffered a stroke, she wanted her independence.

Her outlook changed when she went to Buehler's Fresh Foods in Medina for some routine items and fell in the parking lot. No one was around. Wrapped in pain and unable to get up, she lay on the ground for what seemed like forever.

"It dawned on me that I couldn't do these things by myself," she says. "I really think I had to come to that on my own accord. It's a lot better if you do; it makes it a lot easier on your family."

At first the transition was difficult, especially parting with her house and many of her possessions. But it didn't take long for Wilson to appreciate her new home in Emeritus at Medina.

"Downsizing is not pleasant," she says. "But in the end I felt the pros far outweighed the cons, and this is where I belonged."

The 87-year-old has now been at Emeritus for six years. Initially, she liked the intimacy. It felt less like a hotel than other places she visited. Wilson also quickly grew to appreciate the welcoming atmosphere and friendly people.

"Changing to a new environment can be intimidating," says John Jones, vice president of Judson Manor in University Circle. Although, "most of the time, once they make the move and get settled, they feel they should have made the transition years ago."

Jordan Perlman, for example, lived in an East Cleveland apartment for 35 years. He moved into one of Judson's independent living units because of the upgraded surroundings and amenities. Plus, the location provided easy access to the Cleveland Clinic, where he's volunteered for five years.

"I don't need any care right now," he says. "But it makes me feels good; in case anything happens, I'm taken care of."

More than 40 percent of Judson's 460 residents live in independent care, or residential housing with a 24-hour staff on hand for medical emergencies and to provide housekeeping.

Independent care, the first step into assisted living for most seniors, is for those who are still well enough to live on their own but need the security of knowing help is not far.

At Breckenridge Village in Willoughby, approximately two-thirds of its 750 residents are in independent living. "Many times people can be supported in independent living with a little bit of help, like assistance with medication," says David Schell, executive director at Breckenridge Village. "By the time they really do need a higher level of care, there is something else going on where the need is evident."

With the down economy and depressed housing market, however, many seniors are staying in their homes longer, even as their need for assistance continues to grow. Schell encourages seniors to look at the benefits of senior living, though.

"Once they compare costs, they are pleasantly surprised that they can maintain a much higher quality of life in the retirement community than in their own home," he says. "Most people realize that when they move here, they've eliminated a lot of their concerns about the future, and they live healthier because of that."

Seniors usually realize the benefits of being without the daily responsibilities of maintaining their home, cooking meals and shopping while always having an aide nearby, even if living independently.

As needs change due to failing health conditions or when the burden of maintaining an independent lifestyle becomes too strenuous, residents make the jump to assisted living. The campuses at Judson and Emeritus offer studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments (Breckenridge even has three-bedroom units) with a 24-hour staff that assists with daily living activities. The level of care varies depending on the need.

Marjorie Warsack moved into the assisted living facility Emeritus at Camelot in April from another facility. While she still administers all her own medicines, the 82-year-old wanted the security of having help nearby.

"It's tough losing your independence," she says. "I didn't have a problem adjusting, though. It's a matter of attitude and accepting the fact that you need the care."

Part of the reason the transition was so easy for her was the community. In addition to activities such as bingo and road trips to nearby attractions, Warsack recalls when she returned from the hospital after a day of cancer treatment and her neighbor came by to check on her because she hadn't seen Warsack the day before.

"The people care about what happens to you," Warsack says. "They are very concerned in all aspects. If they see that you're not coming out of your room, they will ask questions and see what they can do for you."

Warsack says if the day comes when she is unable to handle administering her medicines on her own, she would have no problem with the staff handling it for her.

Nursing care at such facilities provides 24-hour medical attention, medication management, daily assistance with bathing and dressing, dining assistance and special diet plans, escorts to assist with walking, an emergency response call system, and rehabilitation services. And for patients suffering from memory loss, dementia or Alzheimer's, Judson, Emeritus and Breckenridge all offer memory care.

The staff encourages choices and builds a partnership with residents so they can maintain their dignity and live their lives in a familiar way. By the time the need for nursing or memory care arrives, most residents are comfortable within the community and are not hesitant to increase the level of care.

Wilson definitely appreciates the community nature of the home.

One morning, after she returned from the hospital, she was greeted by an Emeritus resident assistant offering help. She helped her get into and out of the shower and even brought up a wheelchair so Wilson could go to the dining room.

"The staff goes above and beyond for everybody that I know," Wilson says. "Just because their job description says one thing doesn't mean they will keep within those parameters. The aide didn't have to come into my room and check on me or go get me a wheelchair, but she did and that's very appealing when you're an older person."

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