ASSISTED LIVING: TAKING A TEST DRIVE
Discovering the Benefits of a Short-Term Stay
Diane Childs and her husband, Ronald, were planning a vacation. But Diane’s mom, Irene Lewers, who lived with them in Clovis, California, didn’t want to go. At 82, she had a hard time climbing the stairs to the couple’s motor home.
“Previously, when we’d taken a vacation without her, we’d left her at home with a daycare person,” Diane says. “I worried constantly.” This time Diane suggested a different option. She wanted to know if her mother would be willing to temporarily move into Sunrise of Fresno, an assisted-living community.
Although Irene had refused to consider the idea of permanent residency in what she thought of as an “old-age home,” she agreed to give it a try.
Irene enjoyed her first stay, which lasted a month, and the people she met. Five months later, a second short stay closed the deal. In January 2003, she became a permanent resident.
“I told her that if she decided it wasn’t for her, I’d bring her home,” says Diane. “But she loves it. There are so many activities to keep her busy.”
“Test drives,” offered by many assisted-living and independent-living communities nationwide, provide opportunities to check out every aspect of community living without making the typical long-term commitment. The decision to try a short stay is usually triggered by a particular incident, says David Vail, executive director of Atria Stratford in Stratford, Connecticut.
“Deteriorating health, a fall or the loss of a spouse can make people believe they can’t live independently, but they don’t need a nursing home,” Vail says. “Many have lived on alone in a large house and their world has shrunk to the kitchen and a room off the kitchen. Moving here rejuvenates them, and they find a joy in living.”
Bigger Decisions Deferred
Broaching the subject of moving often isn’t easy for an adult child, says Mark Alexander, vice president of operations for Atria Senior Living Group in Louisville, Kentucky. Suggesting a short stay, he notes, can serve as an excellent alternative.
“It’s a good mechanism for discussions with Mom or Dad,” says Alexander, “because it brings in strongly the element of choice. The adult child is saying, ‘Why don’t you give this a try? You don’t have to make a full commitment. It’s just a test for you to see what assisted living is like.’”
Some people hesitate to move to a retirement community because they think it will mean a loss of independence. However, in short stays, they often find that the exact opposite is true. Freed from the responsibilities of cooking and home maintenance, given transportation to theaters and shopping, they are able to participate in activities they enjoyed when getting around was easier, indicates Greg Martin, vice president of sales for Chicago-based Brookdale Senior Living.
Offering a short stay allows a parent who still feels independent to have a say in the decision about moving. Vail recommends a stay of no less than 21 days to give the person time to “get into the swing of things.”
When Linda Ross suggested a short stay to her parents, Bobby and Julian Glazer, her father would agree only to a one-week trial. At The Hallmark in Chicago, one of 82 Brookdale Living Communities nationwide, Bobby relaxed, enjoyed the vacation from household duties and was ready to move in. Julian thought the staff was wonderful, but he didn’t want to make the change.
However, a year later Linda persuaded Julian that the move was in order. Because of their short-stay experience, they all knew life at The Hallmark would be easier for Bobby, who had begun having physical problems. To clinch the deal, Linda promised her father she would hold off for a year before selling the couple’s Indiana home and Florida condominium.
“Three months after they moved, my mother died and my father was in the best situation possible,” Linda says. “In that time, he’d grown to like The Hallmark. He had a support group and a network of friends that could keep him going.”
Short-stay residents get immediate help with building such relationships. At Homewood Residence at Shavano Park, an American Retirement Corporation community in San Antonio, Texas, a life-enrichment coordinator works with each new resident to create a family-life profile covering hobbies, proud moments and family history, says residence manager Judy Hoover. The information helps the coordinator determine the best activities for the resident.
Members of a hospitality committee—Homewood’s most socially involved residents—send cards of welcome and knock on newcomers’ doors to help them get involved. Only by participating in activities can short-stay residents get a real feel for what living at Homewood is like, insists Hoover.
“You can’t just throw people into a furnished apartment,” Hoover adds. “Bring along things that make your parent feel at home, special things that make it feel like more than a hotel room.”
Hoover recalls residents who’ve brought pictures to hang on the walls, games to play, puzzles and special pillows. Family photos, address books and lists of medical information also help residents feel at ease with short stays.
Florence Ralph, 80, spent a test month in a two-bedroom furnished apartment at The Park at Golf Mill, a Horizon Bay Senior community in Niles, Illinois. Exercise classes, evening musical events and staff members she calls “nice,” helped win her over. Also, the short stay allowed her to determine before she signed a longer lease that a one-bedroom would be big enough.
Checking Out the Idea
If a short stay sounds like a good idea for your parent, a few phone calls will determine which local communities allow month-long stays. Before signing on, plan for your parent to attend an activity or two and stay for a meal.
Lisa Yagoda, senior policy associate for aging with the National Association of Social Workers, in Washington, DC, suggests consulting a clinical social worker who specializes in aging to determine whether a short stay is an appropriate option. If so, the social worker, who should be familiar with local facilities, can assess your parent to help determine which facility or type of facility would be the best fit.
Yagoda also notes that arranging a short stay is far more complicated than calling a hotel to make a reservation for a month. The admissions procedures can be rigorous and time consuming, she says. But, to the contrary, both adult children who’ve arranged short stays and staff members at a number of communities don’t describe checking in as arduous.
To qualify for a short stay at an American Retirement Corporation community, a person needs to have had a physical performed and a medical history completed by a physician in the last 30 days, says John Schwaner, vice president of marketing. “The community’s wellness director [head nurse] and residence manager,” he explains, “assess the person’s current situation to make sure they are a good fit for our place.”
Ron Rotzko and his wife, Vicky, have lived with his mother, Evelyn Rotzko, in her house for about three years. When the couple wanted to take a vacation last winter, they arranged for Evelyn, who is afraid to be alone overnight, to spend two months at Atria Stratford.
The admission process didn’t take long, Ron says. First, Evelyn’s doctor had to certify that her health and medication situation was what Ron claimed it to be. Second, an in-house Atria nurse evaluated Evelyn to get a feel for how she was functioning.
Short-stay residents at Horizon Bay communities need not go through a stringent admissions process, says Ellen Kershenbaum, regional director of sales and marketing, in Southfield, Michigan. “We speak with the person to get a feel for what they’re looking for, their needs, what they want socially and their health. Do they need assistance?” Kershenbaum says. “There is no paperwork and no doctor’s certificate required. If they are ready to make the commitment for a short stay, they sign a short-term lease.”
Besides helping a parent ease into a permanent move, short stays help adult children adjust to the idea. Betsy Tucker had used Atria Stratford several times to give herself a break from the 24/7 stresses of caring for her mother, Frances Tucker. Each time she left Frances, Betsy cried and felt guilty, but there was simply no other way she could take a much-needed vacation.
“When she did have to move there permanently, I found the short stays had helped me,” Tucker says. “I knew she was in familiar surroundings, so she wouldn’t be scared. She was in a safe place where people care about her.”