Alternatives for Senior Living

By Kathleen Shannon

Back in the day, as they say, when Grandma could no longer maintain her own home or was falling victim to her failing health, she simply sold her home and moved in with a younger family member, most likely one of her children.

Fast-forward several decades and that’s no longer always the case. With double wage-earner families, the demands of children and other commitments, fewer and fewer adults take in elderly family members. In addition, many adult children live thousands of miles away from mom or dad in the Lehigh Valley and can’t possibly be of daily assistance.

So where do seniors go?

Continuing Care Retirement Communities

Healthy, active seniors concerned about the future can buy into a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) such as the Lutheran Home at Topton or Luther Crest in Allentown.

For a national average of $250,000, a cottage or apartment can be “purchased” at a CCRC and the resident buys a lifestyle tailored to their needs. To give seniors a more active lifestyle, transportation is provided to shopping areas and for day trips, activities like crafts or book clubs are in place. But most importantly, the cottage or apartment resident can move into assisted living or skilled nursing when it’s needed.  Monthly fees which vary, but can be around $2,500, cover all the amenities and utilities except telephones.

Paul Fenstermacher, a courtly, spry gentleman, a Luther Crest resident, still drives and is active on several committees.  His sister is in a nursing unit so he was familiar with Luther Crest before moving in seven years ago.  Paul said the staff is wonderful and caring. “Life here is like living on a cruise ship with all the amenities,” he said.

The continuing care aspect was a major selling point for Georgia and Ed Baldridge. They moved in three years ago when Ed started having some health issues. She knew it was time to give up the house in Cetronia, and was familiar with Luther Crest.  One thing Georgia especially likes is the ability to join in activities when she wants to or be left alone to do her own thing.

“I’ve developed friendships, which creates a new family for me,” says Ruth Eisenhard. Ruth has a one bedroom apartment with a den and living room. Before arriving six years ago she was familiar with the campus but never thought she would be a resident.  Like Georgia, Ruth knew it was time to give up her house when she had several falls.

Assisted Living and Skilled Nursing

As with most things in life, there’s something for every budget.  For those not able to afford a CCRP, there are increasing numbers of assisted living facilities around.

Assisted living came on the scene in the early 1980’s. It is basically a mid-point between home and the skilled nursing care of a nursing home. Sometimes called personal care, there’s a distinction between the two, with personal care residents limited to no more than four people per room (in Pennsylvania) and assisted living limited to one, or a husband and wife. Assisted living suites are required by the state to have kitchen facilities.

For the senior needing help with medication management or showering and bathing, assisted living is ideal. There is a structured social environment with activities, health and nutrition is emphasized and the physical environment is generally sunny and cheerful.

If the need arises, the assisted living resident can move into skilled nursing care, perhaps for a short term stay after some form of surgery or maybe permanently for serious health concerns and dementia.

At The Village at Willow Lane in Macungie both independent living and personal care housing is featured, along with short term rehab after hospital stays.

There’s no buy in at Willow Lane, just a monthly fee, which covers housekeeping, linens, meals and assistance from a nurse or nurse’s aide when needed.

“We offer Life Enrichment Programs, which is more than just recreational activities.  We promote having fun, learning, maintaining skills, exercise and movement, reminiscing, going on outings and trips in the Lehigh Valley, experiencing new things and intergenerational programing.  We want our residents to gain their independence and have fun doing it,” says Jennifer Swinsburg, a spokesperson for The Village at Willow Lane.

Public Housing

Many independent seniors downsize into public housing for the elderly. Apartments are small and it’s a challenge to get rid of a lifetime of possessions but it’s a good move for people still driving and active in the community.

The Lehigh County Housing Authority operates the apartment building at 333 Ridge Street in Emmaus. The 75 one-bedroom units were built in 1983 for individuals 62 or older, or disabled.  Preference is given to Lehigh County residents but anyone can go on the waiting list.

The only charges are 30 percent of income for rent and utilities, which is very doable for someone with Social Security as their only source of income. There is a community room for parties and bingo, and a social and activity calendar maintained by the Lehigh County Office of Aging.

Over at 635 Broad Street in Emmaus are Section 8 subsidized apartments for seniors.  A flat fee of $560 is charged, with residents paying their own utilities.  There are 87 units and a short six-month waiting list.

As Mitch Huston, a spokesperson at Luther Crest, said, “It’s all about the socialization.”  Whatever choice they make, being around people every day and participating in meaningful activities is key to enhancing senior’s lives.

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