Finding a Good Home
The security of assisted living and CCRCs can bring adult children peace of mind, while older parents often like the idea of no home upkeep. "I'd maintained a home for 62 years, and I really didn't want the responsibility anymore," says Nellie Snook, 84, who moved into a CCRC in Chapel Hill, N.C., in 2004. But assisted living and CCRCs may not suit those who don't like crowds. And you must be in good health to join. Most CCRCs accept only new residents who can start off in independent living.
Nursing homes. After Kathleen Berthay's husband died four years ago, Berthay moved to a 140-bed nursing home in Tupelo, Miss. At the time, Berthay, who is blind, could reasonably have expected to live the rest of her days in a shared, hospital-style room eating meals delivered on a tray. Instead, as part of a "Green House" project launched by Mississippi Methodist Senior Services in Tupelo, Berthay, 81, moved out of the home in 2003 and into a house she shares with just nine other people. Berthay eats with her housemates at a common table in the dining room, sharing meals prepared by a certified nurses'aide who also cleans the house and helps Berthay and other residents with bathing, dressing, and other daily tasks. When doctors and physical therapists visit, they ring the doorbell.
"This is the best thing that ever happened to old people," Berthay says. The Green Houses-so named to connote growth and life-have yielded impressive results since they first opened in 2003. "The Green Houses are revolutionizing the model of care within nursing homes," says Rosalie Kane, a professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. Her research shows that compared with nursing home residents, people living in the Green Houses score better on measures of quality of life and show slower declines in their abilities to perform daily tasks.
Efforts are underway to launch Green House projects in every state. Traditional nursing homes are scrambling to keep up. Some are starting to offer private rooms, replacing dinner trays with dining room buffets, and training staff to be more autonomous. At a growing number of nursing homes run by Beverly Living and Golden Living, hospital-style care is giving way to "neighborhoods," where large institutions are subdivided into groups of 12 to 24 residents, who take part in choosing music or planning activities and share family-style meals in small dining rooms. And the companies are aiming to have the same staff take care of the same residents all the time.
When considering nursing homes, look for these types of efforts to make care more homey and personal. "You don't have to trade in your ticket to quality of life to get a certain level of personal care and monitoring of healthcare," says Kane. That's a lesson that adult children are learning in their search for the best old-age care. "All the time I was helping my father, I was thinking, 'What if this were me? Would I want to be in a place like this?'" says Liebman. The answers that baby boomers arrive at will no doubt shape the future of aging as they demand better care for their parents and, eventually, for themselves.