Transitioning from independent living to a retirement home means big changes and, once faced, a fresh start for life’s third act. Helping with that adjustment is a top priority for senior living facilities around the state.
Most residents wish they’d done it sooner, says Beth Case, community outreach coordinator at Oklahoma City’s Epworth Village. Facilities like Epworth assign a mentor from among fellow residents, along with enacting staff guidance to ease any initial discomfort or anxiety.
Angela Ulissi with Oklahoma City’s Fountains at Canterbury says the process of putting residents at ease can begin long before move-in.
“Each new resident receives personalized assistance and orientation from our move-in coordinator to ensure a smooth move and the wonderful feeling of being at home right upon arriving,” she says. “The process starts well before the move, with our move-in coordinator visiting to help with preparations and advice on rightsizing furnishing and belongings to work perfectly in their new residence. Our coordinator and resident ambassadors introduce incoming residents to new friends here and the wonderful opportunities to thrive in new ways.”
Renee Hoback, executive director at Fountains of Canterbury, ensures that residents can “live very similar lives as they did before, with touches such as customizing your home to your exact tastes.”
Once moved in, staffs help residents maintain strong physical and emotional health with an array of activities, meditation monitoring, exercise, music and cultural studies.
“We don’t ask residents to conform to us; we meet their needs and we do that with variety,” says Lori Allen with Tulsa’s Town Village. “You can be as active or not as you like, but staff and residents, we’re all part of it – all the way down to our bus driver, who plays in a band for residents.”
When it comes to managing medications, Hoback assures that it’s not a one-size-fits-all policy.
“For residents in our assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing neighborhoods, we develop personalized care plans that meet individual needs and preferences, including how medication is managed,” she says.
At Epworth Village, exercise is often a social activity. Case shares the story of a resident in his 80s who used a cane and had never exercised before.
“He came to enjoy the camaraderie of group physical activity so much this his physical condition improved and he no longer needs a cane to walk,” she says.
For those on the hunt for a senior living facility, either for yourself or a loved one, experts recommend narrowing choices based on your preferences for location, size, services, possible future care transfer, cost and culture.
“Ask to talk the residents, as their satisfaction and honesty goes a long way,” says Case.
Compare unique options offered at various facilities, says Hoback. One draw she describes at Fountains is Watermark University, the community’s “calendar of engaging classes taken and taught by residents, associates and experts from the public.”
Discernment in choosing a retirement community includes factoring in noise, staff demeanor, autonomy and that important but intangible ‘vibe.’
“I recommend looking at multiple communities, because every single one is different,” says Stephanie McConnell, building manager at Tulsa’s Forest Hills Assisted and Independent Living. “Find the fit for you. You want greetings, smiles, assistance … not people with their heads down, avoiding conversation. It doesn’t have to be the prettiest facility, it just needs to feel good about itself, starting with the staff.”
McConnell also advises on planning ahead and avoiding rushed choices made out of desperation.
“There are different levels of care, from independent to skilled nursing to long term, and the goal is to keep people as independent as possible for as long as possible,” she says. “Often, when we are coming in contact with the potential resident, they’ve usually had some traumatic accident prior to that like an infection or fall. Whatever brought them to realize they need the care – that is not the best time to be shopping around and figuring things out.”
Regardless of the facility you choose, think of it as an opportunity to create new relationships and start a new chapter.
“Time and again, we see that people feel their lives are transformed in wonderful ways by moving in,” says Ulissi. “They discover they have gained a caring community of new friends, along with learning, cultural, exercise and other opportunities to thrive that they didn’t have previously when they were living in their longtime home. We often hear our residents say, ‘I wish I had done this a long time ago.’”