Articles Posted in Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC)

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While “age 55 and older” seems to be the general definition of an American “senior,” I have never allowed my age to deter me from enjoying two of my favorite activities: tap and jazz dancing. As a senior living advisor and former part-time children’s dance teacher, I am pleased to see so many senior living communities offering dance therapy classes to their residents. I have also taught tap and ballet on a voluntary basis in several senior centers and in some of the assisted living communities that specialize in dementia care. When I was teaching, I was made aware that several of the participants in my class with dementia also had Parkinson’s disease.

Exercising even just several times a week can boost a person’s immune system and make him or her feel better physically and mentally. That is in large part because of the endorphins that are released. Exercise classes provide fun and fellowship while encouraging seniors to move all of their muscles and body parts. If a person moves his or her limbs, it increases hand-to-eye coordination, strengthens the core, and helps balance.

I approached teaching my senior dance classes as I would have any other basic level: I included combinations and repetition to Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin songs, among others. I found that most of my “students” found ease in doing the tap warm ups, grape vines, and some jazz movements, even if a participant was confined to a wheel chair. Many of the participants said that their joints felt better, their overall movement improved, and, most importantly, their spirits had been lifted. After the class had finished, I always served my students a snack and we’d talk for a while. Some of the residents with dementia would reminisce about where they used to go to dance with their spouses. One resident in particular spoke about a church in Evanston, Illinois that had a Scottish affiliation and offered Scottish dance lessons. She even went so far as to quote me the exact street address. The repetition of certain exercises helps people with Parkinson’s to concentrate on movements that have become difficult for them, such as doing two things at once. People who have suffered a stroke are able to express themselves by moving to the music even though they can’t talk. Sometimes seniors’ medications stop working for them and yet the classes gave them relief from their symptoms.

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As a Certified Guardian, I am often asked to act as a senior’s Power of Attorney for Health Care when s/he doesn’t have a family member who is willing or fit to act for him/her. Simply stated, the Power of Attorney for Health Care grants the designated “agent” control over the senior’s decision-making, including end-of-life decisions if the senior lacks the capacity make the decisions on his/her own. As a Power of Attorney For Health Care, you should be thoroughly familiar with a senior’s personal, financial, and medical history before accepting this serious responsibility. Please read the following real life story that makes my point.


Five years ago,  I was called at the last minute to act as Power Of Attorney (POA) For Health Care for an 85 year-old  woman.  It was the day before she was to move to independent living at a retirement community. Independent living used to mean that the senior can basically function on their own with some assistance with meal preparation and housekeeping. Now there are a lot of ala carte services that can be brought to the senior’s independent apartment, allowing him/her to remain there without changing to the assisted living level of care. The woman’s former POA had moved out of state and had written her a formal letter of resignation. A trust company had been appointed to act as her Power of Attorney For Finances.

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20171031_141154-2-300x225How in the world are busy professionals who also have growing children supposed to find the time to handle their aging parents’ issues – both health and living arrangements?

More and more of them are turning to experienced professionals who have experience in the field and can assist with everything finding the most cost effective and person-centered elder care, to interviewing potential home caregivers, to dealing with legal and financial specialists, to acting as a liaison to Medicare and long-term care insurance companies and even to paying bills.

Chicago Senior Living Advisors, based in Inverness, provides personalized Geriatric Care Management which is designed to assist family members or other unpaid people who are caring for an elderly or cognitively impaired loved one, according to Andrea Donovan, president.

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Elder abuse is a crime. It can occur whether your loved one is at home, attending adult day care, or living in a senior living community. And like any other crime, you have an obligation to report it. This month, I have asked one of my trusted partners, Mike and Mary Doepke of Home Helpers Home Care of Hinsdale, to share some information on Elder Abuse:

From all outside appearances, 80-year-old Shirley seemed well cared for by the niece who had moved in with her a few months earlier. She even told her friends how she was enjoying the company and the help around the house.

Shirley had always been frugal with her credit cards, using them only when needed. So when the bank called to ask her about some recent, unusual charges on her account, she was alarmed. She was even more surprised to find out that the purchases were made by the niece she had welcomed into her home.

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This month, I am celebrating the 11-year anniversary of the opening of Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors. I am hoping that I have at least another 11 years of rewarding work ahead of me. I have to chuckle because I have had so many unusual requests over the past decade, not to mention finding that special apartment for the senior who has the 90 pound Labrador that must continue to attend its current doggie day care, requests for caregivers who speak a special dialect of Indian or Farsi, accommodations for religious preferences, transportation to senior symphony practice for a senior cellist, and finding a nursing home that would allow my senior loved one with dementia to store and play her piano in her room. I figure that I have evaluated more than 450 senior communities in the Chicago metro area over the past decade and completed over 6,000 hours of research. I know that sounds like an insanely large number of hours, but how else would I be able to get the answers for my clients? Admittedly, in some cases there may only be one right answer, as I share in this month’s REAL LIFE STORY.

Real-Life Story

My clients were the child (and her husband) of a 94 year old gentleman. He had been a white collar professional, an avid musician (stringed instruments) and recently lost his spouse. He underwent some very serious cancer surgery several years ago and had recovered very well. He and his late wife had been living in a luxury condo owned by the child. Since it was located in the middle of the downtown area, it allowed them easy access to their doctors, the symphony, and shows they deeply loved. After the death of his wife, he remained in the condo with several caregivers who came in at 2 different intervals during the day. He remained in the condo alone in the evening. However, the child told me he had recently been hospitalized with pneumonia, wasn’t drinking enough fluids or eating 3 meals a day, and had fallen. The child no longer wanted him to live in the condo alone. I was also told that the senior was “putting on a good act,” and that his need for more help was being well hidden. I was told that I would need to duplicate his environment in order for a move to occur. The environment could not have an “assisted living or nursing home feel.”

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When I started serving in the senior living industry over 15 years ago, all communities included three meals in the rent. Three meals were just part of the senior’s care package, whether the level of care be independent living, assisted living, or skilled nursing home.

While that still holds true today for assisted living or nursing home care, the meals/food picture has changed in the independent living landscape. Most independent living communities are offering one main meal per day, with the choice of paying for 2 extra meals on an ala carte basis. Other independent living organizations are offering “flex dollar” arrangements, where the senior is given a fixed dollar stipend on a monthly basis. The flex dollars can be used to purchase meals, haircuts in the salon, or other amenities the community has to offer.

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About one-half of the clients who engage me for my services do so after they have already selected a community for a loved one. Then, when a problem arises, they call me to help fix the problem. Unfortunately, no one has a crystal ball and can anticipate some of the unusual circumstances that can arise. Most of the time, clients are so pre-occupied with fixing the senior living problem that exists now, they do not consider what can happen in the future. Clearly no one is to blame, as it is always what we do not anticipate that causes a problem.

Real-Life Story

My clients were the children of a senior aged 78. She had been placed at a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) that offered Independent Living, Assisted living, Assisted living with a memory care unit, and Skilled Nursing care. She had a lovely apartment in the independent living area that required an entrance fee of more than $200,000 when she moved in.

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Many seniors have a tendency to keep private their financial realities. However, if your senior loved one purchased long-term care insurance to cover the costs of a stay in a community or to hire non-medical home care, you will want to ask if you can look at it. I say this based on the experience I had with my mother, and I share our story lest you should have the same experience.

My mother purchased a long-term care policy 25 years ago. I was amazed that the insurance carriers were able to underwrite her at age 70. Thankfully, she was well enough to pass the underwriting since she had no serious medical issues at the time. However, the agent who sold the policy to her (and who had bragged that she was the number one producer at her company) was not exactly prudent when designing the structure of the plan for a claim that could occur in the far future. The plan that was sold to my mother included a 90-day waiting period before any benefit would be paid. Such waiting periods are common. The plan maximum paid up to $100 per day. That, too, was all right for a plan that was purchased 25 years ago. However, the agent neglected to sell my mother her an inflation guard benefit which would increase her plan’s benefit by 3-4% per year. If an inflation guard benefit had been included, the benefit she would receive would be much more in line with the currents costs charged by her senior living community. The bottom line is, based on the plan purchased 25 years ago, my mother will receive a benefit that will cover $3,000 of her $6,000 monthly cost.

While I am thankful she had the policy, it would have been more valuable if the inflation coverage had been included at its inception. If you know or suspect your aging loved one has purchased a long-term care policy, ask if you can sneak a peek at it!

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I remember fifteen years ago when I started as an Admissions and Marketing Director in the senior living industry, my future boss took me on a complete tour of the community. Or so I thought.

The community included independent living, where most of the seniors were well off mentally and ambulated with, at worst, a cane. The next level of care was assisted living, which at the time was an extension of independent living. But, the residents at that level received “standby” assistance with bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring, eating, and walking. At worst, seniors there ambulated with the help of a walker. No wheel chairs were allowed. Last, there was nursing home level, or the dreaded fifth floor that was reserved for residents who could no longer function at the independent living or assisted living level. Most were in wheel chairs and needed total assistance with their activities of daily living. Or, some suffered memory impairment and were at risk for wandering. The fifth floor was equipped with a security code for the elevator and an alarm for those residents who might attempt to leave unattended.

When my boss conducted the tour, he showed me the independent living and the assisted living areas, both of which were places where the residents appeared to be happy. However, after I began working there, I was sent to complete a task on the fifth floor where the residents needed total assistance with everything. Being new to the industry, I was like many of my clients taking a tour of a nursing home for the first time. I was nervous and terrified! I rushed down to my boss’s office and told him that I was exceedingly upset that I was not told that the fifth floor existed. As time went on, I grew to love the residents on the fifth floor. There we were encouraged to take a break from the regular tasks of the day, attend scheduled activities, or just talk.

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Here are five easy steps to help convince your loved one who needs to move:

1. Enlist the child, sibling, or friend who is closest to the senior to initiate the conversation. The senior needs to hear the message from the right person.

2. ​Plant the seeds in very short, non-threatening messages. For example, “Gee, I noticed that you are having a little trouble getting yourself dressed. Don’t you think you would benefit from a little help?” Change the message at the right moment at the next attempt. “I noticed you have been eating a lot of cold cereal instead of a meal. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone cook your meals for you?” Space out the messages and deliver them at the opportune times. It may take months for a senior to decide you are right.