More than Bridge and Bingo

Retirement communities are no longer homes for the old folks

By Karen Schwartz

Walk into the independent living apartments of The Admiral at the Lake continuing care retirement community (CCRC) on the North Side of Chicago, and you’ll see beautifully appointed one-, two- and three-bedroom units, some with an expansive view of Lake Michigan. The Admiral also features a spacious library, numerous restaurant-style dining options, a modern exercise room, a beauty salon, an indoor pool and a movie-viewing room, where residents can also attend lectures.

Descriptions of CCRCs like this are en vogue right now.

The newly constructed Admiral is considered the oldest nonprofit organization in Chicago dedicated to senior living. What began in 1858 as the Home for Aged and Indigent Females now offers a variety of modern amenities. But more than that, the senior care community enables all of its residents, no matter what level of care they’re receiving, to participate in a wide array of physically and intellectually challenging activities.

“We are different from other retirement communities in that we rely on residents to determine what happens with our programs and activities,” says Glenn Brichacek, CEO of The Admiral at the Lake. “Before we opened, we did a detailed survey of what residents wanted in terms of classes and fitness equipment. We also use a proprietary, computer-based program called Collage that is geared toward residents setting goals for themselves in terms of the quality of their lives in areas such as their health and [spirituality]. Residents determine the goals toward which they want to work and contribute their ideas.”

Older adults throughout Chicago-land are moving into communities like the Admiral and finding that whether they’re living independently, with some assistance or receiving nursing-home care, many CCRCs offer a variety of activities that are tailor-made to their residents’ individual interests and lifestyles.

In 2011, Mather Life Ways on Aging; Ziegler, a specialty investment bank and Brecht Associates, a consulting firm, partnered to conduct the National Survey of Family Members of Residential Living in CCRCs. Respondents included nearly 3,700 family members from 49 states plus the District of Columbia representing 221 CCRCs throughout the United States.

“This type of study had never been done before because this focuses solely on CCRCs,” notes Kathryn Brod, vice president of senior living strategic initiatives of Mather LifeWays in Evanston. “We felt it was an important study because we were obtaining information from family members to find out what they thought of CCRCs. They clearly saw that the benefits that their family members were receiving were of good quality and they would recommend the CCRCs to others.”

Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported that the CCRC in which their family members lived offered the opportunity to engage socially with new people. Furthermore, 77 percent of respondents believed that the CCRCs enabled their family members to seek new interests and passions in life.

Seventy-two-year-old Janet Reed moved into The Admiral from a condo on Lake Shore Drive where she had lived for 33 years. Now, she lives in a spacious one-bedroom independent living apartment with a breathtaking view of Lake Michigan.

“I moved to The Admiral because I did not want family members to make the decision for me later on; I wanted to make my own decision while I was physically and mentally able to,” Reed says.

At the Admiral at the Lake, Reed is involved in a variety of activities. She’s chair of The Admiral’s fitness committee; the committee works with residents to decide what classes to have in the fitness center. She also played an important role in organizing the residents’ association and in writing the bylaws. Reed also helps decide what types of art gets displayed in The Admiral at the Lake’s public areas.

“I’ve made a lot of new friends here, and it’s wonderful to have new people in my life,” she says. “It’s important to be socially engaged in order to prevent some of the problems of aging.”

“It used to be that a retirement community was where people went to sit back and relax,” says Brichacek. “Now that the quality of life for older people has improved, people living here can be involved in so many ways. We probably have about 20 committees including a fitness committee, a library committee, a culinary committee, an art committee and others. We are here to provide support, but we don’t lead.”

The Admiral has plans to open more assisted living apartments, memory support apartments and 36 skilled nursing rooms this winter.

Down the shoreline and a few blocks inland is The Clare. Built on the Water Tower campus of Loyola University in Chicago, The Clare is a 53-story CCRC that features 248 one-, two- and three-bedroom independent living apartments as well as assisted living, memory support, skilled nursing and rehabilitation services.

“We have a [very] vibrant and independent group of residents,” says James Kneen, executive director of The Clare. “It’s encouraging and inspiring to be around some of these seniors and to know that as you get older, you don’t necessarily slow down.”

All of the Clare’s programming and activities are designed around eight primary dimensions of wellness services: intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, emotional, environmental, vocational and health.

“An example of health services is that residents come into the community knowing that they have all sorts of healthcare available to them,” says Jennifer Ayers, director of life enrichment at The Clare. “We want to keep our residents fully engaged, so we have a garden club and an outdoor terrace where people can weed and seed, as well as a poetry workshop that is led by a resident. [We have] resident-run poker and bridge games, a Lyric Opera lecture series along with many other activities.”

Friendship Village in Schaumburg promotes what Mike McMann, Friendship Village’s director of lifestyles, calls “person-centered” care. “Our programming is all about successful aging and aging well,” he says. “Living to be healthy and providing the tools for everybody to grow.”

To achieve that objective, Friendship Village has five core areas around which its activities are designed: the spiritual; an extensive fitness and wellness program featuring zumba, weight training and even scuba diving; a lifelong learning program that includes partnering with local universities; the vocational in which residents go out into the community and have the opportunity to do volunteer work for over 15 nonprofit groups; and socialization, whereby residents make new friends through a variety of social events.

“We encourage our residents to be engaged in their lives and to learn new skills,” says McMann.

Gone are the olden days of grandma and grandpa sitting around playing bridge and bingo, sucking on hard candies. They’re leading active lives and participating in a variety of activities that challenge their minds, bodies and spirits. Like they’ve done all of their lives.


Published in Chicago Health Winter/Spring 2013
Read more articles about retirement communities from our print issue here

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