Retiring Differently: Senior Living Breaking from Tradition

Retirement looks vastly different today versus how it looked in past years. With new services, amenities and technologies constantly being introduced by senior communities and home health care companies, seniors and their families now have multiple options to choose from as they transition into the next chapter. While navigating such a huge change may seem overwhelming in the beginning, there are a number of considerations that may be helpful to seniors and families as they look into senior living accommodations.

Quality of Care

When choosing a senior community for a loved one, families are ultimately looking for specific qualities like excellent care, great value, an exceptional dining experience, robust engagement activities, socialization opportunities and attentive and kind staff.

“As you can understand, their loved ones are entrusting us with the health and well being of their parent [or parents],” said Todd Milbrandt, executive director at The Waterford at Roxbury Park, located in Omaha.

The assisted living community provides a variety of services and personalized care including 24-hour staffing, incontinence care, medication administration and daily meal preparation. Daily activity programming keeps residents entertained while they enjoy opportunities to engage in hobbies, explore interests and deepen friendships. Recently, Milbrandt said the facility was also named a Best Assisted Living Community by U.S. News World Report.

It is not uncommon for older adults and their families to sometimes be unclear about senior care services and living options. At nonprofit Tabitha, Manager and Senior Living Advisor Aubrey Paulsen said the organization encourages people to learn more by reaching out to its senior living experts, who are available to listen, answer questions and connect people with the resources available in their community to best fit their needs.

“In general, seniors want to remain independent, living in their own home for as long as possible,” Paulsen said. “It is important to understand how home health care can assist you, wherever you call home. Seniors are also looking for ways to remain active and socially involved.”

Engagement is Essential

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, resuming visits and activities was a top priority for senior communities across the nation. Milbrandt said residents were extremely happy when visitors were finally allowed, and regular activities resumed.

“COVID took a real toll on staff and residents in senior living,” Milbrandt said. “It was so sad not being able to allow friends and families to visit, while keeping our staff safe and taking the utmost precautions to keep everyone safe.”

Before COVID-19, Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, gerontologist and aging advocate at Home Instead, said many people preferred to age in place with the comforts of home and the same is true post-COVID.

“However, we are seeing more aging adults considering downsizing, shared living arrangements and moving closer to family or loved ones,” she said.

When it comes to health care, Eichenberger said aging adults are also getting back in to see their health care providers and scheduling their medical procedures that were delayed due to the pandemic.

Amy Johnson, chief strategy officer at LifeLoop — a software company offering a multi-faceted platform designed to streamline operations, workflow and communication to enhance the lives of both residents and staff — said people are especially looking for connection today.

“There can sometimes be a lot of apprehension about moving into a senior living community,” Johnson said. “But in reality, these communities offer a lot of connection, camaraderie and engagement opportunities.”

Another issue that arose due to COVID-19 was that seniors who remained alone and at home were often the most vulnerable, as they were very isolated and not set up with the technology tools to feel connected to others. In addition to offering a supportive staff that was focused on the well-being of its residents, Tabitha Living Community helped keep residents engaged with their family and friends through its Connector program, Paulsen said.

Evolving Technology

Technology, especially in the senior living space, is allowing for more transparency than ever before. Through technology, Johnson said residents can stay in close contact with their loved ones and even interact with their fellow residents in new and exciting ways. Technology is also pivotal in giving families peace of mind regarding their loved ones.

“Many families don’t live in the same place anymore, but with the help of technology, they can stay connected and in the know,” Johnson said. “That, in and of itself, has a huge, positive impact on resident well-being.”

For the in-home health care industry, Eichenberger said technology is allowing more freedom and creating efficiencies for people of all ages. Remote monitoring, delivery services and other convenience apps are making it easier for aging adults to care for their homes, get the products and services needed, get transportation and monitor their health.

During the pandemic specifically, seniors using technology skyrocketed. For the first time, some were introduced to all the conveniences it brings such as online banking, ordering groceries and prescriptions, video conferencing and telehealth visits. Paulsen said this means older adults are becoming more receptive to being digitally connected and tech-savvy than ever before.

“Technology continues to expand, especially in the home health care arena,” Paulsen said. “Tabitha can utilize technology to monitor vital signs of clients in the comfort and convenience of their homes, alerting nurses of any concerning changes in health.

“This is especially helpful in the remote, rural pockets of Nebraska that lack health care resources. Future adoption of technology will be a key driver in fostering community-based independence for seniors.”

Future of Retirement

As the needs of seniors change, so will the retirement industry. Technology advances will continue to be made to improve services and amenities, and new initiatives will continuously be explored to ensure satisfaction for both seniors and their loved ones.

Milbrandt said this means the competition for senior living will continue to intensify, as there are many facilities in Omaha that are all competing for the same customer.

“People are staying in their homes longer, and home health has played a big role in that, as they provide quality care without leaving their homes,” Milbrandt said.

Many people envision their retirement years as a time to do all the things they’ve been meaning to do for ages – travel, spend more time with friends and grandchildren, or even clean out the basement. But after a while, Eichenberger said retirees often find themselves longing for the structure, sense of purpose and fulfillment of a career.

“As a society, we are living longer, and people are starting to see retirement differently,” Eichenberger said. “The baby boomer generation is certainly breaking away from the traditional view of retirement. Instead of kicking back and enjoying endless travel and leisure activities, many want to stay active and maintain a sense of purpose in the last third of their lives.

“Retirement can now be a time to do the things you have always wanted to do or an opportunity to reinvent yourself. We are seeing more people trying out new career fields in retirement, joining a new industry as elder interns or volunteering a significant amount of their time at nonprofit organizations. We are also seeing aging adults take on more meaningful jobs in their encore career.”

For example, Eichenberger said at Home Instead, many care professionals are retirement age and see their job as rewarding, as it allows them to give back to others and provides flexible schedules that allow them to enjoy the perks of retirement such as family time, travel or leisure activities.

According to Paulsen, Tabitha is continuously looking for ways to enhance seniors’ experiences and live into its purpose statement of empowering people to live joyfully, age gratefully.

“Knowing seniors want to remain independent for as long as possible, we are introducing two new living communities for seniors to suit this need,” Paulsen said.

“Opening later this year, will be senior apartments at our newest campus in Grand Island, Tabitha at Prairie Commons.”

Tabitha has also begun construction on an intergenerational living community concept on its main campus in Lincoln.

“It will be home to independent seniors (65+) and Bryan College of Health Sciences students,” she said. “An intentional place to live where wisdom and knowledge are shared across generations and purposeful neighboring is the norm. This community by design will promote connection and collaboration, long-held core values of Tabitha.”

The living community is slated to open in 2023.

Have a Plan

Experts across the board agree that being prepared for when loved ones transition into their next stage of life is essential. Waiting too long to construct a plan can make the situation very confusing and often more difficult to navigate than it needs to be. Of course, Paulsen said a plan can evolve over time, but it is important to understand options as soon as possible and clearly outline wishes with family.

“Do not wait for a crisis,” Paulsen said. “When you have to make quick decisions your choices will be limited and not necessarily the best fit for the situation.”

One thing is for certain, more advancements in the industry equate to more choice, which means more freedom for seniors and their families.