People typically perceive assisted living facilities as separate from the community at large, a place where seniors engage with their peers and no one else. But some assisted living communities provide tremendous opportunities to keep seniors connected with the world beyond the residence.
The Scandinavian Living Center (SLC) in Newton, MA, for example, houses an assisted living center as well as a cultural center, businesses, nonprofits, and even a pop-up café. As a result, more than 2,000 people come through the SLC’s doors each month, creating an opportunity for residents to remain organically involved with the local community.
Here, with the help of SLC executive director Joe Carella, we highlight the ways community-centered living can break down barriers between assisted living and the community as a whole.
The Community-Centered Living Model
In the community-centered living model, seniors are not set apart from the local community because of their age or their care needs. Instead, they are welcomed as integral, contributing members of their community.
“Both the residents and their neighbors and friends in the surrounding community are given the opportunity to not only maintain their hobbies and interests, but also to try new things through all the unexpected and changing human connections,” explains Carella. “It encourages everyone to look forward to new opportunities.”
Of course, just because the opportunities are available doesn’t mean residents will take advantage of them. That’s still up to each individual, who has the freedom to choose how much or how little he or she will get involved. But these opportunities for connection can lead to a greater likelihood of community participation.
“When you bring people together, the opportunity for meaningful and influential connections increases,” affirms Carella. “Community-centered living cannot prosper unless you create natural human connections through many opportunities to gather.”
Stories of Community-Centered Living
And at the Scandinavian Living Center, connections are formed on a regular basis.
Carella shares the story of a 102-year-old SLC resident who chose to volunteer for Newton at Home, one of the nonprofit organizations renting office space in the building. Her job? To contact a homebound 87-year-old man to make sure he was OK.
“In an unexpected and unplanned connection, the 102-year-old woman living in an assisted living facility was reaching out and assisting a neighbor in the city of Newton to stay safe,” says Carella.
In his book Creating Unlimited Options for Aging: The Path Forward, Carella also shares the story of a teenage boy who began seeing a physical therapist located in the SLC. At first the boy questioned whether an assisted living community was the best environment for his physical therapy, but his uncertainties were soon set aside. Within a week, he had started dropping by the café to spend time with residents.
“As I witnessed this new bond, I marveled at its sharp contrast to the negative experience I had as a teenager,” writes Carella. “My observation of this warm interaction between a young person and much older adults was another step in my increased understanding of the impact and importance of natural connections facilitated by the community-centered living principle.”
As these stories illustrate, assisted living residents are a vital part of their communities—and we would all lose something valuable without their input and their very presence.
“The advantages are for an entire community, not just the people living inside a facility,” affirms Carella. “The benefit becomes our ability to continue the journey in life with never-ending human connection and human influence.”
CHIME IN: How have you benefited from living in intergenerational community with others?