Where you live matters, at every stage of your life.
With some 71.6 million Baby Boomers in the U.S. between the ages of 57-75 years old, the notion of downsizing as a way to free yourself from the daily chores of homeownership and enjoy the next chapter of your life holds great appeal.
As more Boomers retired in 2020 than in years past – 3.2 million people as opposed to an average of 2 million annually since 2011, according to an analysis by Pew Research Center, figuring out what’s next makes sense. Like so many important decisions in life, it’s best not to wait until there’s a crisis to consider the options.
For active, engaged healthy older adults, searching for a retirement or senior community is a lot like searching for a home at any stage of life. Location matters. Do you want to live in a certain climate, within walking distance of services? Are you a country or city person? Is it important to stay close to family, maybe even close to your current neighborhood? If you travel, how close is the airport? Do you want a place that will offer more services as you need them? These are just a few considerations.
Since it takes about two years to go through this search process, according to Whereyoulivematters.org, a consumer outreach initiative by the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA), doing some research in advance will ensure a good fit.
Private communities that promote aging in place and a full continuum of care, covering the range of independent living, assisted living, memory care as needed and skilled nursing, offer a one-stop shopping option that has appeal for many. Finances are a big consideration, since many of these communities start in the $3,500 a month range for a one bedroom, with meals, housekeeping, and utilities included.
The monthly fee isn’t all to consider – some CCRCs require an entrance fee, which can be in the $300,000 range and up, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing and Care, an industry research group. Nearly two-thirds of the communities charge an entry fee, according to AARP. Once residents move in, they are charged a monthly maintenance or service fee. Other continuing-care communities operate on a rental model with no up-front fee. Rent for an independent living unit is often $3,000 to $6,000 a month
Working with your financial advisor to figure out your personal budget and how much of your financial resources you can devote on a long-term basis is critical to making the decision for where you live next.
What kind of lifestyle do you want?
Once you square away the nuts and bolts of what you want and can afford, it’s time to see what’s out there.
For younger, independent seniors, an active over-55 community might be a fit. Geared to active, healthy, sometimes newly retired adults, this option offers condo living situated near recreation like golf courses, parks or marinas, with plenty of social opportunities. You’d own your own unit and pay homeowners association fees, which takes care of maintenance. Some communities also cater to residents who want to rent and not own. There isn’t a continuum of care offered here, so it might not be your last stop, a consideration if you don’t want to move again.
For those who are healthy now but want to plan for a time when they might need more help down the road, a CCRC – Continuing Care Retirement Community is a popular choice. These communities are one-stop, aging in place with senior living options that range from independent living to assisted living, where personal needs and nursing care is offered as needed, as well as memory support for people with dementia and skilled nursing and rehab services, all on one campus.
The idea is, you’re home at any stage of life, without the need to move again.
How to choose the senior living setting that’s right for you
A Move Uptown
For Dorian Bennett, who at 67 is the youngest resident at Lambeth House in Uptown New Orleans, culture and community made all the difference. Bennett recently sold both his real estate brokerage business and his long-time Marigny home. For him, the idea of moving into a place where residents shared his values, interests and background mattered. Since Bennett is still working – doing what he loves – matchmaking sellers and buyers with their dream properties – he wanted a place with all the amenities of home without the hassle of maintenance and upkeep.
“I wasn’t thinking of this as retirement, more as where my next home would be,” said Bennett, a widower with lifelong ties to New Orleans. At his daughter Delia’s suggestion, he started thinking about downsizing, getting out from under the commitment required to maintain an historic home. He was familiar with Lambeth House because his mother-in-law had been a resident there. But he did his due diligence.
“I looked at a few places including one across the lake, but the idea of having to travel so far to get to New Orleans didn’t appeal to me,” he said. Bennett is thrilled with his decision. A world traveler and serious art collector, the idea of living in a place that felt like a luxury hotel had great appeal. “I love the library, the artwork throughout, the restaurant and dining is exceptional.” A large fitness and wellness center and swimming pool add more appeal. Although he’s already made friends, there are also people he and his late wife Kel had known for years as new neighbors. “People are so friendly and warm,” he said. “I already feel very much at home.”
For Bennett, like for every New Orleanian, the quality of dining and food is paramount. It was a huge selling point that chef Jacques Saleun was the Lambeth House’s executive chef. The French-born chef is well known for classic French cuisine at his Metairie Restaurant Chateau du Lac. He joined the Lambeth House in 2019. Donald Richardson, who came onboard as food and beverage director in September, brings a background in country club and hotel food and beverage management to the table.
Like many CCRCs, the average age of residents at Lambeth House hovers around 80, with three distinct level of care onsite, 118 pet friendly independent living apartments and 61 assisted living units that are also licensed for nursing care. A memory care unit offers private rooms and a range of service. One-bedroom units start at $3,500 a month which includes meals, housekeeping transportation, the wellness center, the art studio, meditation garden and interfaith chapel staffed by a full-time chaplain.
“We have a lot of active seniors who live with us,” said Lambeth COO Jere Hales, who added that wellness includes 99.7 percent of the residents and staff vaccinated for COVID-19. “More than ever, we see people making a conscious lifestyle choice when they move in with us. They want to have options like biking and playing golf in the park. They want to travel, turn the key and not have to worry about a thing while they’re gone.”
Strong ties to local culture
Vista Shores was originally a country club overlooking Bayou St. John close to City Park. Nine years ago it reopened as an upscale private assisted living community with the same bayou views and park access. Courtney Bartholomew has been executive director of the facility for eight years.
“We are locally owned and operated and our culture is all about family and New Orleans traditions,” she said. Vista Shores welcomes residents of every race, sexual orientation and religion, a point of pride that reflects the city’s diverse gumbo of cultures and backgrounds, she added.
The place is homey and pet-friendly, with a large wraparound porch for visiting, a bistro and restaurant where meals and snacks are served from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a lounge where cocktails and live music are the norm. “There’s no set time to eat, we have three chefs cooking homestyle New Orleans Creole cooking. It’s just like going to a restaurant every day,” she said.
Activities are many, from a walking club that heads to City Park regularly, and excursions like a trip to see the Floats in the Oaks during Mardi Gras to music therapy, computer lab, library and book clubs and outings to local cultural events. Art and photographs reflecting New Orleans traditions and culture set a welcoming tone that brings the community’s setting into sharp focus.
Resident’s monthly fee includes utilities and cable TV, with each unit equipped with its own heat and AC. There’s a daily well-being check, light housekeeping provided and help with coordinating health and therapy appointments. A complimentary shuttle service makes it easy to run errands and keep off-site appointments.
For family members, perhaps the most comforting feature is that when their loved one needs more help, the eyes and ears of the staff are engaged and monitoring the situation. As the need arises, personal care is an option and 24-hour nursing is standard. An onsite physical therapy practice is another benefit, so when the need arises, PT appointments are in the Vista Shores neighborhood.
The CCRC is laid out with independent and assisted living apartments intermingled on the first and second level, with the third floor devoted to memory care and more skilled nursing services. For residents with Alzheimer’s and dementia, there is a separate kitchen and dining room on that floor, along with a veranda that overlooks the bayou and a special memory care garden on the grounds.
“One of the key selling points is you can come in as independent as you would like to live,” said Bartholomew. “Basically, you’re here with us and become our family.”
Shiny and new in Harahan
Operating a lifecare community during a pandemic has its challenges, but that hasn’t slowed Quality Senior Living Management down a bit. The Florida-based senior housing developer opened The Blake at Colonial Club in Harahan in December 2020. One of eight residences in Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida built and managed by the Pensacola company, the Blake at Colonial Club is an example of the company’s mindful expansion in secondary markets that lack luxury senior living options.
“We target a very independent person as a resident,” said Caroline Barry, VP of communications and sales for QSL Management. The Harahan property, on Jefferson Highway on the site of a former golf country club, is minutes from Elmwood shopping and offers 118 independent living apartments that are also licensed for assisted living. Another 48 units are designated for residents with memory impairment. Pricing starts at $4,100 a month for one-bedroom apartments including meals, utilities and most services. A coffee bar and piano bar and lounge are charged separately, both popular hubs for socialization and visits with family and friends.
The restaurant style dining program is a big selling point, with chef David Stassi, a New Orleans native with a background that includes executive chef and management jobs with restaurants including Nola Caye, and Luke and Warbucks for BRG Hospitality.
“All of our communities are designed as welcoming spaces for multi-generational family visits,” said Barry. “Because we take care of so many things for our residents, they can enjoy their family as their family – your daughter is no longer a caregiver, she’s your daughter again.” Two landscaped courtyards extend visits to outdoors.
For residents in assisted living and memory care, technology plays an important role. The Blake at Colonial Club employees Vigil Health Solutions, an innovative call systems and resident monitoring solutions for senior living. Seniors in assisted living have a pendant call system that is monitored the nursing staff 24/7. “It might be something as simple as being unable to reach something on a top closet shelf,” she said. “We strive to answer every call in three minutes,” she said, noting that the industry average is 17 minutes.
In the units in the secure memory care area, motion sensors and detectors placed strategically around the bed, bathroom and doors give the staff vital information as to how their patient is moving around and if they need any help.
Technology and safety protocol is important to all residents, said Barry. “They want to be sure our WiFi speed is adequate for their needs,” she said. “When COVID first started, we wanted to be sure our residents could be in touch with their families. I was surprised that at least half of them had iPhones and already knew all about FaceTime.” For those in memory care, something called a Never Too Late system is available, a wall-mounted touch screen pre-programmed with family contact info so residents can easily see and speak to their loved ones virtually.
A comprehensive safety plan for hurricanes, with the emphasis on keeping all systems operating so residents don’t have to evacuate, is a strong selling point, noted Barry. “Our goal is to improve the quality of life for our residents, no matter what stage of their life they are in.”
Aging on your terms by design
“Think of it as going on a cruise,” said Lisa Cini, president / CEO of Mosaic Design Studio and author of books including “BOOM: The Baby Boomers Guide to Leveraging Technology, so that you can Preserve Your Independent Lifestyle & Thrive” and “The Future is Here: Senior Living Re-imagined.” She has more than 25 years of experience in design and senior housing. “If you stay in your cabin and never leave it, you won’t have a great time. Social connections and activity is what keeps people engaged and happy as they get older.
Cini designs CCRCs that are neighborhoods with a range of housing options and interiors that improve quality of life. “People want choices, from cottages to apartments to residential rooms,” she said. “Then there’s the hospitality component, with restaurants, a country club, outdoor activities like pools and bocci courts, a spa and wellness center, offices for people that work there. We dabble in everything.”
Cini follows what she calls the “LOVE” method of design.
“L” is for lighting. “Aging eyes need 70 percent more light than 24-year-old eyes,” she said. “But building codes are built for young eyes.” Both interior and exterior lighting is crucial, she said “Parking lights might be brightly lit for safety, but that light can bleed into bedrooms and disturb sleep. That’s where room darkening shades come in, along with inside spaces lit with amber night lights – which allows you to orient but not wake up, like blue lights do.”
“O” is optimizing the space both for storage and safety, a byproduct of downsizing from a home to an apartment. Using vertical space for storage, installing a heat lamp in the shower to help maintain a healthy body temperature, a hygiene forward raised bidet toilet seat and a combo toilet paper holder grab bar are a few popular adaptations geared to making things safe and simple.
“V” is visual, which speaks to lighting but also making sure there is contrast between materials. “If you can’t see where the edge of carpet end and wall starts, that’s a safety hazard,” she said. Designing large pictures windows inviting in the view is key as older people start spending more time inside. That natural light helps with circadian rhythms and sounder sleep.
“E” equals ease. “How can you make your life easier?” she asked. “Technology, like a ring doorbell that allows you to see who is at the door, or using Alexa as a reminder to take meds, can make a big difference.”
Touring multiple facilities at different times of the day and having a meal, talking to residents, is all part of your research, she added. Use all your senses. See, touch, and smell. Notice maintenance of common areas and apartments, how the residents interact with each other and staff. Chat with residents to get feedback.
“We are all aging and changing. Get the information and data you need to make good decisions when you aren’t under pressure,” said Cini. “By really doing your homework in advance, you can literally and figuratively move yourself from a place of fear to freedom.”
Whether you are helping your older family member in their search or planning for the future for yourself, a good place to begin your online search is WhereYouLiveMatters.com, a website with a comprehensive overview of senior living options. Check out the “Exploration Guide” that provides in-depth information on the services provided within each level of senior living. Several checklists are also available for download to use as you visit different communities.
Other helpful sites include Seniorly.com, which offers a line up for retirement communities by location with estimated costs for each. Seniorlifestyle.com breaks things down by lifestyle options with a list of resources including financial planning and a printable guide to senior housing.
Professional services such as Assisted Living Locators, a nationwide network of highly trained senior care advisors, can help you and your family navigate. Locally, Germaine Simon heads up the New Orleans office, offering in-depth assessment of needs, analysis, recommendations and assistance with the selection process. Simon, formerly director of services for the city of New Orleans, opened his Assisted Living Locators office in 2019, and provides a range of service along with compassionate guidance for older adults and families in transition.
Having “The Talk” About Assisted Living
The dreaded talk. You’ve noticed your dear elder’s quality of life slipping. Mom might forget to take her meds, Dad might be getting shakier on his feet. Often times it falls to the adult children to step in, help with shopping, doctor’s appointments, assure that your parent is in a safe environment.
Which is a stressor for sure, noted the American Psychological Association’s 2007 Stress in America survey. Although both sons and daughters step up to help, women in the “sandwich generation,” ages 35-54, are most impacted, as they try to do it all – hold down a full-time job while caring for their own growing family and seeing about their aging parents.
If both of your parents are around, they may be at different stages of their aging development. One might have memory issues, the other not, one may be more health compromised than the other. And if they are still in the family home, with all of the demands on time, money and stamina that entails, the situation can become untenable.
Downsizing to a manageable independent living or assisted living apartment in a welcoming community may be perceived by your parents as threat to their independence. In fact, it allows them to age in place, have the care and community they need as they need it, and as importantly, allow their adult children to regain their relationship as son or daughter, instead of being a direct caregiver.
But how do you broach the subject? Vista Shores, a locally owned assisted living and memory care community in Bayou St. John, offers these tips to help the conversation along.
Be sympathetic. Change is never easy at any age. Sensitivity is key. Look at the situation from their perspective. Your loved ones have spent their entire lives building memories in their home. Letting go of those memories and the home they’ve built can be difficult.
Be inclusive. The last thing you want to do is act like it’s a done deal, with your elder not figured into the decision. Bring up senior living as an option. If your relative has a trusted friend who has made the decision happily, bring them into the conversation. It is important your loved one feels their voice is being heard.
Be honest. It is okay to tell your loved one you’re worried about them. In fact, they probably will appreciate the honesty. Explain the potential hazards of living alone and how senior living communities can provide assistance if something were to happen. Your goal is to support their independent living as long as possible, just in a setting that is more manageable as they age.
Be prepared. Your loved is going to have a lot of questions. For instance, many seniors are afraid that assisted living facilities are dreary places with not much to do. BY touring multiples facilities, they will see for themselves the kind of comfort and social engagement offered by communities like Vista Shores.
Visit different communities. Finding the right assisted living facility is incredibly important. Tour a range of properties to get a sense of what’s out there, from lifestyle options to health-related services and care. Consider things like amenities, dining, staff, and the location of each facility when choosing a community. Finally, ask about credentials and affiliations. The Senior Living Certification Commission is a good place to reference, since it’s the gold standard for credentialing certification for the Assisted Living industry and if the community you’re interested is on their list, that’s a good sign.