This is not your grandparents’ assisted living space!
By Melissa Nicefaro
When seniors choose an independent or assisted living community to spend their last years of life, one of the most important factors is socialization, whether it’s sitting in common areas and chatting with other residents or going on outings. This socialization becomes even more important around the holidays as many residents can feel a bit melancholy, missing the days of a full house of family and friends celebrating. Now those holidays are spent with champagne brunches, holiday meals, shopping bazaars and galas with live music with other residents or visiting family.
Seabury in Bloomfield holds social, educational and fitness activities every month and all year long that include art classes and annual expos, fitness classes, adult education courses in the spring and fall with UConn, entertainers of all kinds, guest lecturers, men’s mug club, women’s breakfast, resident’s council, opera club (70-people strong), environmental action group and events, and resident mixer dinners quarterly, to name a few.
For each major holiday, Seabury has a festive meal prepared by its culinary team, in addition to religious services if applicable. For Thanksgiving, a holiday meal is prepared for residents and their families. For the winter holidays, a gala with many appetizers and live music is held.
“We have an in-house chaplain and relationships with area clergy and rabbis who will partner with others to preside over all services. We also host themed parties,” said Christine DuPont, vice president of marketing and communications for Seabury.
Often, residents themselves are part of the team that plans these events, along with a dedicated department or committee of Seabury staff.
“The events, committees and interest groups are the lifeblood of this community. Giving our residents outlets and ways to contribute and shape the lifestyle while continuing to learn and grow as a human being needs to do in all stages of life. Living a life of intention or having a purpose, especially as you age, is integral to healthy living and longevity,” DuPont said.
At Covenant Living of Cromwell, social activities are at the heart of all they do.
“Socialization, conversation and fellowship are a main reason why people move into a community like Covenant Living of Cromwell,” said Dan Stegbauer, executive director at the community. “We have full-time, dedicated team members who are dedicated to bringing meaningful, relevant and fun activities, events and outings to residents at each level of living. Our calendars are full year-round to the point residents need to pick and choose what they want to participate in.”
This only increases during the holiday season.
“Being a faith-based community, our programming is robust as we start right after Thanksgiving with decorating events, tree-lighting gathering, carol sings, concerts, worship services and gift giving for residents, and much more,” he said. “We also ensure that events for those who practice different faiths, or no faiths at all, are made available.”
Heather Pierce, owner and senior advisor at Clear View Senior Living, helps seniors and their families find the best fit for their next step in life, focusing on living communities that provide a variety of services while enhancing independence. Socialization is one of the first things she looks for at communities.
“If you’re isolated at home and can’t drive, how great of an option is it to be in a community and have transportation to fun outings?” she said. “And right in many communities, there are wonderful programs for residents. You have yoga, tai chi classes, art workshops, game nights, a putting green and virtual golf. They’re pretty cool!”
Pierce assists with a step-by-step transition moving from home to a community, including resources like movers, downsizing or any type of assistance that the seniors need to help make it a successful transition.
The options are wide. Pierce recommended looking at three or four communities in person since there are at least seven different types of living situations, including assisted living, independent living, congregated housing, skilled nursing and memory care.
Covenant in Cromwell takes care of its memory care residents with a special program that is supposed to slow the effects of memory loss while emphasizing socialization.
“We purchased SAIDO a few years ago. It is a memory program that every resident that lives in memory care participates in,” said Dan Stegbauer, executive director at Covenant.
“It’s a non-pharmacological way to slow but not reverse the trend of Alzheimer’s and dementia. And we’ve seen some really good results,” he said. The program enhances the way memory care residents engage with people and encourages them to participate more in everyday life.
“It gets them out every single day for socialization for at least a half hour and we’ve seen some good results from that. It also gives our staff an opportunity to take a break from their day-to-day and have special one-to-one time with the residents,” Stegbauer said.
While memory care is necessary for some assisted living residents, there are many who are more independent, require less assistance and need to keep busy.
“Every community is different. They each have a different personality, different feel and vibe,” said Liz Cornish, founder of New Season in Life senior and memory care consultants. She is a physical therapist who worked in many senior living communities around Connecticut and saw a need to help families make good choices when it comes to assisted living.
“Some communities are more social and many center around socializing at meals,” she said.
When looking for a community, she suggests looking for a good quality of care first, then—as funny as it sounds—the quality of food.
“As a society, we gravitate our relationships around food, around meals, so the food has to be good,” she said. She looks for communities with a robust calendar of activities, but then takes it a step further and looks at how well-attended the activities are. She recommended talking to the residents and staff to get a feel for how happy they seem to be.
“Nowhere is going to be perfect. Even home isn’t perfect. And so there will be bumps, but it’s how the community responds to that. That is the true test,” Cornish said.
For those who like to live on campus and spend time with their friends, doing activities, sitting and chatting, and especially dining, Seabury offers many options. There is a formal dining space with a main dining room, a casual dining space called the bistro, and a grocery marketplace option for residents who may be on the run.
“When we had our last repositioning expansion in 2019, we gained a lot of new amenity space, and we had an opportunity to completely reinvent our dining options so that were satisfying both a more traditional diner and a fast-paced diner,” said Seabury’s DuPont.
Seabury also has a healthy fitness culture with in-house employees who provide land- and water-based classes, including personal training, chair yoga, functional strength, Zumba and aquatic classes.
“The fitness culture spills out into the outdoors—we have 66 acres of open space. We have a 4-mile trail system, so there’s a lot of outdoor, hiking, walking. We have a pickleball court. We have an outdoor lawn gaming area, so there’s bocce or golf croquet and horseshoes,” she said.
For those not into fitness, Seabury offers art activities where residents can create art to be displayed in galleries throughout the common spaces.
For those who prefer more of a retail experience, Seabury runs a thrift shop called Encore, where residents take in donations, set prices and handle sales.
“Some of our coolest programming ideas come from the residents that came in with the idea themselves,” DuPont said.
Melissa Nicefaro is a writer for magazines and business publications across Connecticut. She lives in Orange with her husband and two daughters.