The View from Inside an Assisted Living Community

assisted living blogWe hear a lot about assisted living communities these days. If we need to learn more, we check out glossy brochures that describe each place in considerable and colorful detail. Sometimes we visit the community for a meal or to participate in a special event.

What we don’t see when we help a family member consider whether or not to move into an assisted living residence are the small details — the daily interactions of various personalities, the stories of individual community residents, and the ongoing narrative or body politic of daily life.

On her blog, Assisted Living: An Insider’s View, Carol Netzer, a four-year resident of an assisted living community, shares stories, experiences, and observations. A psychologist by training, Netzer possesses a keen eye for detail and a knack for storytelling. Each post describes a situation, a person, or an event, providing readers with a window through which to observe the successes and challenges of the day-to-day assisted living experience.

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Elder Parent Caregiving During and After SuperStorm Sandy

When my husband’s mother lived in an excellent assisted living community, we found severe weather to be a challenge. Huge  storms, no matter what the season, made it difficult to stay in touch.

Gail Sheehy’s November 3, 2012 article about elder and medical caregiving during Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy is posted over at It’s a must-read for adult children whose elder parents live in caregiving settings or if a senior parent expects visits from visiting nurses or other home care assistants.

In How Assisted Living and In-Home Care Providers Responded to Superstorm Sandy, Sheehy explains that senior caregivers and visiting nurses went to great lengths to ensure the safety and health of the people in their care. She also describes efforts to remain in touch with adult children and other family members.

Her stories of the Visiting Nurses of New York (VNSNY) are breathtaking. You can also read a report about superstorm caregiving on the VNSNY website.

Up and down the northeast corridor dedicated and caring individuals  continued to provide care during the storm, sometimes even moving in with a patient for the few days so they could be sure no lapse in care occurred. Other nurses and caregivers waded through water, talked themselves through police roadblocks, and found novel ways to charge their portable devices.

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Learning All We Can About Assisted Living

Check out 10 Things Assisted Living Homes Won’t Tell You, an August 15, 2012 article over at Smart Money.

These tips for adult children and their families look like common sense suggestions. Often however, when family members seek an assisted living community for an elder parent, they need to make decisions quickly without much time to read all of the fine print and ask the less obvious questions. Sometimes time constraints can put common sense at the bottom of the list.

Check out item number eight in the Smart Money list, “We pay people to put you here.” A family needs to know a lot about the placement service itself before considering its recommendations for an assisted living community.

Our family was most fortunate to discover Chesterbrook Residences in Northern, Virginia, where my husband’s mother lived for nearly two years. Their policies were transparent and clear.

Chronic Conditions of People Living in Residential Care

Click to view a large version at the site.

What are the most common chronic medical conditions of people who live in residential care facilities, including assisted living communities?

This graph depicts the 10 most common chronic conditions of residential care residents. The data come from a National Center for Health Statistics survey of United States residential facilities, not including nursing homes. Check out the other survey graphs in the April 2012 data brief Residents Living in Residential Care Facilities: United States, 2010.

Residents in this survey did not require the skilled level of care provided by nursing homes.

A background report (abstract, page 9) explains how the survey was carried out and defines residential care facilities as “consisting of assisted living residences; board and care homes; congregate care; enriched housing programs; homes for the aged; personal care homes; and shared housing establishments that are licensed, registered, listed, certified, or otherwise regulated by a state.”

Building a Green House Home-The Inside: Part IV

If you are an adult child who’s spent even a little time searching for the right living arrangement for an elderly parent who needs a lot of extra care, it doesn’t take long to understand the terrain. You see lots of hallways, sometimes laid out in a hub, or in a square, or sometimes just going on and on. The residents’ rooms are often spare and hospital-like, even if filled with personal possessions, and frequently two people live together in one room. Surprisingly the noise level is uncomfortably high during the day. We visited a number of these facilities when my husband’s mother needed extra care, but we were able to make more homelike living arrangements for Mother.

Floor Plan for a Green House Home

Most striking, however, are the nursing stations. Rarely are these placed in out-of-the-way or discrete locations. Instead, the nursing area is often the most noticeable feature in the building, sometimes looking like the control room on Star Trek’s Enterprise. My first thoughts in so many of these places was, I don’t want to live here, and I don’t want my parents to live here either.

That’s why, when I looked at that floor plan for the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) Green House Homes (click to enlarge), I felt I was suddenly breathing fresh air. A couple of years ago I heard from my mother, a VMRC resident, about Green House Homes, and she showed me pictures and took me on walk to the site where the houses are to be built. At about the same time I discovered Dr. Thomas’ book. Fresh air indeed.

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Replacing a Nursing Community with Green Houses: Part II

Ideas about changing the nursing care at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) began when carpets were replaced in one of the memory neighborhoods. For several days residents with memory disabilities spent their waking hours visiting a more home-like assisted living area. The caregivers immediately spotted a change — people from the memory neighborhood were more engaged in the activities and more active. The visitors even asked if they could stay.

Looking Toward the Shenandoah Mountains from a Valley Farm

President/CEO Ron Yoder walked over to see for himself and was deeply moved. He began thinking more about physical environments and how they affect the lives of elderly residents at VMRC. So over a number of years the philosophy of the Harrisonburg, Virginia, continuing care retirement community nestled in a valley in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, began to evolve. Eventually a plan emerged, one that imagined ten residential houses for people who require  nursing care, but with the medical care functions masked and the “just like home” aspect emphasized.

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