Senior Living Now and Then: Not Your Grandma’s Rest Home

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Most people have at least one memory of visiting a grandparent or other senior in an “old folk’s home,” and it may not be one that inspires them to want the same for themselves. But things have changed — a lot! Improvements in life expectancy, medicine, geriatric care, and regulations, have all helped change how seniors can live in the 21st century, and what they expect in a senior living community.

Where we are today

According to the Foundation Aiding the Elderly, today’s senior living options have evolved from charity- and welfare-funded homes (aka poorhouses or almshouses) in the 19th century where all elderly were housed together and treated the same regardless of level of care needed. Yesterday’s nursing homes are today’s assisted living communities offering all the benefits of home while providing a range of services and amenities addressing the various types of care each resident needs.

The regulatory landscape

As the baby boom generation ages and retires, senior care is also booming to accommodate those who want a more independent lifestyle or who need help on a daily or hourly basis. Unlike the earliest nursing homes, these communities are highly regulated by the states and must comply with requirements for licensing, resident assessments, medication management, safety, staff certifications and number required, housing requirements, and more. The National Center for Assisted Living offers an overview of regulations in each state. It’s good to know that today, state watchdogs are constantly on the lookout for unlicensed facilities and routinely close them when found.

What to expect today

With that level playing field in place, reputable senior living communities vie for residents by going above and beyond in every way possible. Among the most important is the housing available. Gone are the days of dorm-style rooms and hospital-like settings. Today’s residents can look forward to modern cottages, condos and villas (for independent living) or spacious suites and private rooms providing assisted living and memory care residents a place to call their own. Many are tastefully furnished while others require residents to bring their own furniture. Rooms are sunny, well ventilated and provide heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, so residents are always comfortable.

In addition, the services provided by professional staff have also improved greatly. Depending on the level of care chosen, services can include housekeeping, laundry and maintenance, as well as 24/7 care staff, transportation options, medication management, emergency response, and more. Today’s senior living communities realize everyone’s needs are different and most are open to customizing care plans to meet each resident’s needs over the long term.

The best senior communities also provide a variety of amenities you can’t get at home. For example, a chef in the kitchen preparing wonderful meal choices that are served in a lovely dining room. Onsite, residents can also look forward to entertainment like movies and group programs, as well as opportunities to express their inner artist at diverse classes. To stay in shape, many communities offer age-appropriate exercise classes, a pool, and structured therapy for those with memory or other concerns. There are regular offsite activities as well, including shopping and sightseeing outings, as well as art shows and other events with transportation and assistance provided. Other amenities often available include libraries, hair salons and barbers, security, and some even allow pets.

Perhaps the greatest change in senior living is that it is no longer one-size-fits-all and can be tailored to meet the needs of residents and their families. Care plans are meticulously prepared and executed and residents’ wishes are respected. Unlike the institution-like homes of the past, today’s senior communities embrace the most ethical and professional guidelines and practices with the health and well-being of residents their primary goal. Today, no one has to — or should — settle for anything less. Learn more about senior living today in our comprehensive guide, “Family Decision Toolkit: How to choose the right senior living community.”

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