A woman with snow-white hair whistles as she strolls—walker in tow to steady her steps—down the hallway. A suspender-clad gentleman catches up on the day’s news, his coffee and World-Herald in hand. In the dining room, a party of four flings hearts and spades around a table.
Walk inside Elk Ridge Village assisted living community, and a sense of serenity pervades the residence. Yet many picture the road to retirement living as quite the opposite: fraught with uncertainty, stress and a loss of independence.
When Roxann Rogers Meyer began her tenure at Immanuel Communities 13 years ago, she realized many families were confused about the senior housing industry and the misconception that all options are akin to a nursing home. “I started to lose sleep about it, that people didn’t realize there are so many choices for seniors today,” she said. “They don’t realize you can move in and have a wonderful independent living lifestyle for many years.”
An Internet search of retirement communities near Omaha yields more than 100 listings, each offering a surplus of services, amenities and levels of care. Senior living is big business. “There’s definitely a demand for these services,” said Jeff Reinhardt, director of public affairs at the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging. “As more and more baby boomers retire, the numbers are going to grow.”
In 2011, the first boomers turned 65. By 2030, the number of 65-year-olds in the Cornhusker State is expected to surge 75 percent, according to data from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. Even more staggering, Nebraska’s 85+ population is currently the eighth highest in the nation.
Suffice it to say that as Nebraska’s aging population grows, the bigger the role of service providers. “You need to be as prepared as you can,” Reinhardt advises families. The problem? People wait too long to explore their options.
A spectrum of choices
Independent living is a lifestyle decision, said Travis Taylor, vice president of Dial Retirement Communities. Today’s residents live in “luxury apartment homes” with an attached garage and full kitchen. “Residents will tell us they should have done it sooner,” he said.
Serving more than 1,300 residents, Dial Retirement Communities owns Elk Ridge Village and offers both independent and assisted living residences, along with two other properties in the area and several out of state. With assisted living, there’s often a stigma of cranky nurses and big wards, Taylor said. “What people discover is that assisted living is very different; it’s all about independence and dignity and really preserving their social life and their activities.”
Physical activity is a big focus. Immanuel Communities has state-of-the-art fitness centers and a lifestyle philosophy, tailoring “an entire mind-body-spirit program” to improve residents’ overall health, Rogers Meyer said. The nonprofit, faith-based company serves more than 850 residents, ranging from ages 57 to 100 and beyond, on five campuses. “We are trying to change the way people think of what happens when you move in to a retirement community,” she said.
Offering a diversity of activities and social opportunities is a part of the resident experience at Dial Retirement Communities. “We’re kind of like a cruise ship,” Taylor said. “Everything’s included. We always have stuff going on. We have happy hour, fitness classes, movie theaters—the goal is to really focus on that lifestyle piece and to make every moment count.”
Making the decision
For many families, choosing the right place for a loved one, comparing communities and wading through costs can be daunting.
Omaha resident Tena Poe facilitated “House Hunting: Retirement Edition” for four family members, including her mother and father. On Poe’s list of must-haves were immediately available, credentialed nurses. Poe and her family settled on Parsons House in Eagle Run, where executive director Penny Schweitzer and her team offer 24/7 nurses and an atmosphere that preserves residents’ independence. The community features three memory care cottages and 111 assisted living apartments.
As families consider their options, Kris Ward, lifestyle director at Dial Retirement Communities, suggests they “look beyond the obvious.” When touring communities, Ward suggests paying attention to staff and resident interactions: Are residents happy? Do staff members seem compassionate? “You can tell a lot just by the overall feeling when you walk in,” she said.
Monthly expenses for senior housing can range from $2,000 to $6,000 and beyond based on the community, apartment size and level of care. Many times, the fees are all-inclusive, covering food, transportation, utilities, cable, activities and more. But that’s not always the case.
To alleviate some of the financial burden, long-term care insurance is a viable option. At age 50, “you’ve really got to start thinking about it,” said Mike Miller, insurance advisor at Red One Insurance. About 70 percent of people who reach age 65 will need some kind of long-term care, he said.
Put off purchasing insurance, and the cost of coverage goes up substantially. A policy for a 55-year-old single adult ranges from $2,000 to $2,500 a year on average, although discounts can apply. Purchase a policy in your 70s and the cost jumps to $3,500-$4,000 a year.
Crafting a solid retirement strategy early is also important. “Develop a financial roadmap,” said Mike Sufficool, certified financial planner and divisional vice president at AXA Advisors. Allocations should look different in your 50s than what they were in your 20s, he said, stressing the importance of working with at least one advisor familiar with your overall goals. “People need to not only establish a plan but also revisit that plan on an annual basis and make adjustments as needed.”
Contemplating the future
Above all else, Rogers Meyer at Immanuel Communities urges families to “start the conversation.”
After settling several loved ones in assisted living facilities, Poe, now 73, has begun wondering when she and her husband of 40 years may need to move out of their home. She knows it’s a possibility. “Whatever will be, will be,” she said.
Thanks to her experiences with relatives, she is aware of her options. She and her six children have had tough conversations about the future, reducing some anxiety. “We’ve laughed about it, [and] cried about it, too.”
Continuum of care
Today’s senior housing often incorporates a concept called “continuum of care,” said Roxann Rogers Meyer of Immanuel Communities. A continuum of care campus includes the following services:
• Independent living
• Assisted living
• Memory care (Alzheimer’s)
• Skilled nursing
This approach ensures that as health declines, a resident can stay within the same community.