Caring staff, homey atmosphere, and good food are critical factors in the senior living search, but there’s another element that’s not as easily defined—and it can make a tremendous difference in your level of contentment. That factor is cultural fit. In essence, you must find a senior living community where you fit in with the other residents.
Here, Patricia Maisano, founder and chief innovation officer of IKOR International, an advocacy and life management organization for seniors and individuals with disabilities, shares her insights into getting a feel for the culture of a senior living community so you can find the right fit for you and your loved one.
A Tale of Two Facilities
The importance of touring several senior living communities cannot be overstated—particularly because these visits are crucial to helping you find the right cultural fit, says Maisano. After all, what’s right for one senior might be completely wrong for another.
Maisano illustrates that fact with a story of one client in two vastly different senior living facilities. First, the man’s children moved him into a five-star-hotel-type environment, and it was absolutely the wrong fit.
“They had cocktail parties, and he was dying there,” says Maisano. That’s because he was a truck driver who felt much more at home watching wrestling and drinking beer. So she took him to a senior living community that might be unappealing to some—it looked out at brick walls and served family-style meals, with nary a white glove in sight. But the “brick wall” facility set up an event where they brought in beer and a small group of men watched wrestling together. The former trucker found the right fit.
The “five-star hotel” community, on the other hand, boasted an ice cream parlor, a concierge, and a host of other upscale amenities. “I’ve been in actual five-star hotels that are not as nice as that!” says Maisano. While she personally found that senior living community “over the top,” she recognized that there were plenty of people for whom the atmosphere was just right. “They were used to that kind of thing and thought it was wonderful.” Different strokes for different folks.
Finding Common Ground
When visiting senior living communities, it helps to know what current residents have in common. The Quadrangle, for instance, is a Pennsylvania CCRC that just so happens to be filled with retired physicists and nuclear scientists. “Some facilities have bingo; they have talks on quantum physics,” says Maisano. “I have had clients who worked in government at high security levels and couldn’t talk about their past. At The Quadrangle, they met people with the same security clearance level!”
On the other hand, when you’re the odd one out, it can make for a lonely senior living experience. In the Philadelphia area, DuPont is the largest employer—so when people say they worked for “the company,” they’re talking about DuPont, explains Maisano. “I visited one place where just about everybody was a retired DuPont employee. If you are too, you would be happy as a clam.”
Putting It All Together
Of course, it can be hard to figure out the culture of a community from one visit. To get a better sense of how you’ll fit, Maisano recommends looking at the activities schedule and the environment itself, and learning about the people—their past career paths and education levels.
If you’re unsure—and you’d rather not revisit the issue after discovering a community is not a good fit—consider hiring a consultant to give you the inside scoop on different facilities. With years of experience, geriatric care managers know what to look for in a senior living community and can sense things you might miss. For example, Maisano knew the residents of that Philadelphia facility were DuPont retirees just by observing them.
Armed with inside information and a pared-down list of choices, you can then go out and see the communities for yourself, and choose the one you like best. “Pick a culture that has a common thread from your life,” Maisano advises. “You’ll get the feeling for the right place.”
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