Good Old Days

Exploring a variety of options for helping our elders live out their golden years
Here’s to the golden years: Friendship Village residents, clockwise from bottom left, Joan “Chris” Steele, W. J. Hunt, Frank M. Steele and Miriam Finch share a toast in the bar of Friendship Village.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” said actress Bette Davis. She was right.

But Maurice Chevalier countered: “Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative.” And he was right too.

In the past decade, the population of adults 60 and older in Kalamazoo County increased by 23 percent, from 3,596 to 4,795, and the population of adults 85 and older increased by 33 percent, Judy Sivak, director of Kalamazoo’s Area Agency on Aging, said in a recent address to the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners.

The golden years of the baby boomers are fast approaching, but right now those boomers are looking for elder-care options for their aging parents. It’s all part of the life cycle that takes us from a time when our parents care for us as children to a time when we care for our elderly parents. That shift can involve a daunting and sometimes overwhelming moment of realization for both adult children and elderly parents.

Where do we begin? Where can we find someone to help us help our elders? How do we know when it is the right time to step in?

“Look for things not being handled — unpaid bills or home maintenance falling behind, signs of depression or isolation,” says Vicki Martin, quality assurance director at Senior Services Inc., in Kalamazoo.

Martin, who has been advising people for more than 30 years on how to care for their elders, says communication is key.

“A good place to start is with a really good dialogue,” she says. “Remember that as people age, they may have lost some physical ability, they may need help in some things, but they are still the same people they were when young.”

During that initial discussion between adult children and elderly parents, identify what your elders want and need, then offer options and information, Martin suggests. People want to be treated with respect, she says, and want to feel that they play a part in the decision-making about how and where they will live.

“You can’t do things to them, but with them and for them,” she emphasizes. “No one wants to be railroaded. That makes everyone unhappy.”

For instance, if living arrangements are an issue, suggest a few places to visit and let your parents choose which ones they would like to see. “Have lunch together, suggest five places for senior living and let them choose which two they would like to visit. It’s just a visit.”

Another starting point is Senior Services’ Best of Care Catalog, a publication the organization updates annually that is available at its offices and online at www.seniorservices1.org. The catalog lists every imaginable resource for seniors.

“It’s important to remember that 80 percent of seniors 85 years or older live primarily independently, with perhaps some in-home support. Only 15 percent require assisted living,” Martin says. “By and large, seniors are still cognizant and able to care for themselves with some help. Adult children need to remember to treat their elderly parents as they would want to be treated themselves as they age.”

Aging in place

Although many older persons are opting to remain in their own homes rather than move toward residential care, assistance of various kinds may become necessary as their health fades. But they may be able to remain independent by accepting a helping hand now and then.

“A little bit of help early on can raise the quality of life and even prolong life,” says Pat Josey, owner of Homewatch CareGivers, a local franchise offering assistance to seniors who choose to live in their own homes as long as possible. The group’s national parent organization has been offering in-home care for more than 30 years.

“Doctors tend to push the traditional nursing-home type of care, but there are so many more options to consider now,” Josey says. Caregivers from her business are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “No one private individual can offer that,” she says. “In fact, a large part of what we do is offer relief for the family caregiver. We take over so that the caregiver can take some time away.”

Caregivers from Homewatch provide companionship to the elderly, prepare meals, arrange appointments, provide transportation, clip coupons, help with grocery shopping, do housecleaning, fold laundry, clean closets, water plants and assist with pet care. In other words, you name it, and they pretty much do it. The cost is $18 to $20 per hour, with a minimum of two hours per month.

“We are not medically trained,” Josey says, “but we can follow through on doctor’s orders and make sure our clients take their medications. We help with bathing, dressing and grooming, eating, whatever the client needs to be able to stay at home. Many of the people who hire us live far away from their aging parents, and they call us to take care of their parents. And these days, we get as many calls from sons as daughters.”

David Smith owns a similar in-home senior-care franchise called Home Instead Senior Care. He started the business in 2005 after being a caregiver for his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease.

“I had siblings to help, but the experience taught me how overwhelming this kind of care can be for family members,” he says.

Home Instead Senior Care offers in-home services similar to those of Homewatch CareGivers and at similar prices. Services expand or contract with the needs and wants of the client. Home Instead is a private-pay company, so Medicare and other providers do not cover services.

Smith says that when people are shopping for a non-medical home-care service, his business gives them a checklist to consider. “Unfortunately, this kind of business is not currently regulated,” he says, “so shop carefully. Ask about background checks, whether the agency is insured, how caregiver taxes are paid, and caregiver training. Make sure you have a service agreement so you know what you are getting.”

Home away from home

Staying home isn’t always the best option for seniors — or their caregivers. Being emotionally healthy requires social interaction, and day-care services for adults can fill that need. Covenant Senior Day Program, a nondenominational program at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church on Oakland Drive, offers such services.

“We specialize in caring for seniors with Alzheimer’s and dementia,” says Lauren Fitzmaurice, executive director of Covenant. The program, she says, is the third-oldest adult day-care service in Michigan, established in 1996 as a nonprofit agency with the goal of keeping seniors out of nursing facilities or hospitals.

“Covenant helps you reclaim who you really are,” Fitzmaurice says. “Don’t stay home alone, stay engaged. Seniors with dementia and Alzheimer’s can no longer drive, and when you can’t drive, your world gets restricted. We want to knock that door to the world right down.”

Covenant has its own fleet of cars, and transportation is not only a means of getting seniors to their destination but “one of the ways our seniors get engaged,” Fitzmaurice says. “It gives them a chance to get out, see the world.”

Fitzmaurice is certified as a dementia training provider and as a Coleman Coach in Care Transitions, to support patients and families across care settings. But the Covenant Senior Day Program is open to any senior who may need some supervision. Covenant serves Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties.

“When we care for our seniors, we are also caring for their families,” Fitzmaurice says. “Seniors are often treated as sick when what they are, in fact, is bored. We help them thrive again. We provide a hot breakfast and lunch, but we also provide activities to stimulate their minds, give them a sense of purpose again. We work with the families to develop a plan of care, and we also have support groups and crisis counseling for the caregivers.”

The support groups and counseling for caregivers are offered at no charge, but day-care services cost $10.50 per hour. “We don’t turn anyone away if they can’t meet the cost,” Fitzmaurice says. Scholarships, donations and grants help offset costs for low-income seniors.

The number of people with dementia is increasing because people are living longer, Fitzmaurice says, “but we need to redefine how we view aging. Baby boomers won’t accept services based on the declining of the quality of life. Elder care is undergoing a complete overhaul.”

Continuums of care

Robin Desmond, sales and marketing director at The Fountains at Bronson Place, won’t argue with that claim. “We are built on a social model, not a medical model,” Desmond says. “We want our residents to thrive, and we are always challenging ourselves to raise the bar. We get phone calls every day from people looking for a sense of community, and we encourage people to come in for a tour and talk to us, ask questions. We want to know what you want, your needs.”

The Fountains, located on 23 acres on the west side of Kalamazoo and managed by Watermark Retirement Communities, is a retirement community for seniors 60 and older who have a comfortable means of financial support. It is one of three retirement communities in Kalamazoo that are built around a continuum of care. The other two are Friendship Village and Heritage Community. The continuum includes apartments for independent living, assisted living units for those who need occasional help in daily living, and skilled nursing units for those with rehabilitative and long-term-care needs.

A full-service membership fee at the Fountains can range from $15,000 to $75,000. Monthly fees depend on the type of living arrangement chosen. Residents can expect hospitality services that include two meals a day, biweekly housekeeping service, weekly laundering of linens, apartment maintenance, access to health services, local transportation, utilities, satellite TV, a full calendar of events and more. Apartments range from studios to one- and two-bedroom units, and the landscaped grounds are, of course, dotted with fountains.

“The health care here is outstanding,” Desmond says. “We do a lot with memory loss too and Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are also support groups and grief counseling for those who have lost a spouse. We plan to offer specialized memory care in 2014 for those who may be showing signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s — that’s a growing issue among seniors.”

Classes, a part of what Desmond refers to as the Watermark University, are designed to keep residents active while giving their minds as well as bodies a workout. “Each semester is different,” Desmond says. “I teach golf classes. There’s yoga, Pilates, jewelry making, cooking, languages. … It’s all about stimulating the mind. There’s something new every day.”

Paisley, the resident dog, wanders down the hallway, greeting those who pass by with a lick and a grin. The Fountains allows residents to bring along their dogs and cats at no extra charge.

Not far from The Fountains, also on the west side of Kalamazoo, is Friendship Village. Set on 72 acres and managed by Life Care Services, LLC., Friendship Village is the largest senior living community in greater Kalamazoo. Christa Quandt is the director of sales and marketing there, and as she strolls down the halls to her office, she makes frequent stops to chat with residents.

“No one talks about nursing homes anymore,” Quandt says. “Seniors lead much more active lives these days. Here we call it life-care living. When you become a resident of Friendship Village, you are making a secure retirement choice that will provide you care whatever financial or health or other issues might come up.”

In other words, Quandt explains, you pay for what is called a life-care contract and then you can stay at Friendship Village for the rest of your life. No matter how many years you live or what life changes you experience, the price remains unchanged.

Friendship Village currently has about 300 residents. “Our health center is currently undergoing expansion,” Quandt says. “That’s what people used to call a nursing home, where residents require skilled nursing. We have 57 beds there at this time, but we are adding on a rehab area with 16 private rooms for those who simply need a short stay for rehabilitation therapy.”

Friendship Village includes apartments, homes with as much as 1,800 square feet and the feel of a condominium, shops, an art gallery, two libraries, an exercise room, a dining room and bistro, banking, a game room and other features. On the grounds, gardens are available for those who want to dig their hands into the dirt and grow their own vegetables or flowers, and a path winds through the Village Woods, five acres designated as a backyard wildlife habitat. Transportation services also are available.

Plans for the future include a fitness center built specifically for the needs of seniors. “Nothing like it in Kalamazoo,” Quandt says, smiling. “And, like others, we are expanding our dementia area, with four levels of care in assisted living.”

Quandt takes a turn down a hallway that looks very much like the cobbled street of a small village. Lampposts light the way, shop windows sport colorful displays, and the sound of conversation and laughter bursts from a bistro, where it is currently happy hour. Residents enjoy beer and wine or whatever beverage they might choose, and they share time with family members who have stopped by for a visit.

“Cheers!” a resident says, raising her glass, and the group around the table echoes her call. It’s Friday night in the Village, life is good, and the golden years are looking pretty golden.


A Friendly Atmosphere

We take a turn down a hallway that looks very much like the cobbled street of a small village. Lampposts light the way, shop windows sport colorful displays, and the sound of conversation and laughter bursts from a bistro, where it is currently happy hour. Residents enjoy beer and wine or whatever beverage they might choose, and they share time with family members who have stopped by for a visit.

“Cheers!” a resident says, raising her glass, and the group around the table echoes her call. It’s Friday night in the Village, life is good, and the golden years are looking pretty golden.