Senior Living in Omaha – 2017

This month we’ve still got a little left of summer yet to enjoy before transitioning into fall. Then, in what seems like a blur, it will already be time to carve pumpkins, turkeys, and hams – and all of the other good stuff that happens throughout the remainder of the year. Everything inevitably happens so quickly. That being the case, especially for seniors and their loved ones, now is the time to start thinking about the things that are needed to get through another winter happy and healthy, and to fully enjoy the upcoming holiday season. Although it might seem a little early, rest assured you’ll be in a much better position if you have a plan in place and have made arrangements well ahead of time, rather than putting things off and being forced to make decisions on very short notice or in crisis.

As such, we decided to consult with the professionals a little earlier than usual this year about winter and holiday preparations just for good measure. But not to worry, we’ve also thrown in some great ideas for getting out and enjoying the beautiful fall weather while it lasts, and a lot of other important things to consider with respect to planning for the future!

It comes as no surprise to us Nebraskans that the weather can easily be cause for concern, particularly at times of the year when it’s more likely we’ll experience the extremes. Although by nature it’s unpredictable, to an extent we can anticipate how it will affect us going about our lives. We generally plan according to what the conditions are likely to be at certain times as a force of habit, and that’s not a bad thing–better safe than sorry. For seniors, winter, in particular, presents its fair share of challenges and concerns.

Jennifer Knecht Immanuel - Headshot

Jennifer Knecht

“One of the biggest concerns we see for seniors who live alone, especially during the winter months, is isolation,” says Jennifer Knecht, Vice President of Marketing and Communications at Immanuel. “As we get older, social structures change, family dynamics change. And for seniors who are retired and living alone, social experiences—something that’s so important for emotional wellbeing—require extra effort. From social gatherings to volunteer opportunities and community events, the fall and winter months are filled with lifestyle activities and ways to get involved. Wellness classes and lifelong learning opportunities are also ways to expand social structures while focusing on health.

At Immanuel Communities, this social aspect is so ingrained in resident life. Activities are available for all interests and lifestyles, including health and fitness. We realize that when seniors are involved socially, there’s much less risk for isolation and depression.

Also, winter is often a time where seniors start considering the upkeep of their home and whether the maintenance required to get through the winter is still feasible. Whether it’s time to make a move to a maintenance-free senior living community or that decision is down the road, the holidays can be a good time to start the conversation with family, get a pulse on how much home maintenance is feasible during the winter, and start researching living options. At Immanuel, our senior living consultants provide answers to options for every lifestyle. They’re a good place to start when getting the feel of what’s out there and what services are available. Exploring senior living can be daunting, and assistance in navigating them can be helpful.”

Knecht also offers advice as we approach the holidays that’s focused on the importance of self-care and support. “The holidays can be joyous times celebrating with family and friends. But for some seniors, the dangers of flu season and icy roads or the memories of friends and loved ones who may have recently passed can be difficult.

It’s important for seniors to go into the holidays prepared with wellness of mind and body as the first concern. Encourage your loved ones to get plenty of exercise, eat healthy foods, and stay socially active going into flu season. Fall can be a great time to get up-to-date on vaccinations and meet with doctors about any existing health concerns. For seniors who live alone, isolation can only increase during the winter months. Social activities can help prevent the loneliness and in many cases, depression that can arise from isolation.

Facing the holidays without loved ones who have passed can be difficult. Again, recognizing the need for support is important. Reach out to aging loved ones and talk to them, especially if they’ve lost a loved one in the last year. Planning a special activity of a remembered tradition can help honor the late loved one. Depression during the holidays is felt at any age, but for seniors, reaching out can be difficult. Talking through the grief during the holidays or reaching out for medical help is just as important to wellness as exercise and a healthy diet.”

During the fall months, there are also things to think about and opportunities to take advantage of before the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Phil Birkel Remington Heights - Headshot

Phil Birkel
Remington Heights

“With the cool weather and vibrant colors, taking walks for some exercise is enjoyable,” says Phil Birkel, Marketing Director at Remington Heights. “There are many festivals and carnivals in the fall during the months of September and October. Also, during National Assisted Living Week September 10-16, many communities are hosting events for the general public that week. It’s a great time to explore senior living options.

I’d also suggest volunteering. It’s a good way to get out and socialize while being productive and contributing to the community. So many organizations can use volunteers. Some organizations that need help are churches, hospitals, hospices, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, community centers, homeless shelters, disaster relief, animal shelters, schools, and so many others.”

Broadening the discussion to what one might consider for the remainder of the year, he notes, “Soon enough, getting out and about will become more challenging and dangerous, as the winter months will bring an increase in falls due to snow and ice. There are the added chores of shoveling snow and treating sidewalks with ice melt to consider as well. If you have a fall, it can put a tremendous amount of pressure on everyone involved during a busy time of the year to coordinate a move to a senior living community.

Planning ahead for a move is highly recommended. We often see so many seniors that need our living options because they have fallen, need surgery, or encounter another medical event that creates an immediate need. They tend to have more difficulty exploring the options when their wellbeing has been compromised, and may have to rely on family or friends to make the decisions about their senior living arrangements. Doing some research and touring the facilities that pique your interest is a good way to get an idea of where you’d want to call home in the future.

Seniors should understand what each facility offers for care options and amenities. What is included in the base price? What are the add-on fees and what items are not included in the base price for care? Are there transportation fees, community fees, transfer of care costs, laundry costs, other costs? The choices of facilities often are narrowed to the quality of the facility, care provided in the facility, and price; then it’s a matter of what feels like the best choice. Most seniors have spent a lifetime making decisions of some sort and they know best the community that would be a good fit.

A huge obstacle to moving to a senior living community is getting rid of ‘stuff.’ The downsizing process certainly can be overwhelming, and giving up items you’ve owned for many years can stir up a range of emotions. If you’re planning a move to a senior living community, you may have six months or even a year to get ready. But that time will pass quickly, and downsizing will take more time and effort than you might think.

What are some steps you can take now to downsize your move to a senior living community?

Stop allowing more stuff in. Items come into your home from a variety of sources: gifts received and yet to be given, clothing, housewares, books, seasonal decorations, kitchen items, furnishings, electronics and more. When new items come in, the old ones often remain in closets or end up in a junk drawer, contributing to the overall stuff that must be dealt with before a move. Before you can actually downsize, it’s vital to stop the inflow of more items into your home. Since it’s unrealistic to think you won’t buy anything new for months or longer, the best strategy is the time-tested ‘one-in, one-out’ rule.

Clean out the usual hiding places. One of your first downsizing strategies should be sorting out the basement, attic, garage, shed, and other out-of-the-way spots where things tend to accumulate. Often, the items that land in these storage areas are the ones you don’t know what to do with. Regardless of the nature of the item, if it has been sitting in a shed for years, you probably don’t need it.

Set aside time each week. Devote some time on a weekly basis to tackle one room at a time. Go through drawers and closets, setting aside items that can be discarded. If you think there are things your children might want, have them go through the house with sticky notes to mark the items they’d like to keep. For large or bulky items that the kids don’t intend to take, consider snapping photos to keep your memories intact without retaining the item itself.

Plan to sell, donate or recycle when possible. To paraphrase the old saying, ‘one man’s trash is another’s treasure.’ Things that might not be useful to you in your new home may serve someone else well, so it’s wise to donate items when possible. Selling is also an option, although dealing with the sale of many individual items can be quite a hassle. For items that are broken or not worth donating, try to recycle. When all else fails, throw items away rather than keeping them around, and worse yet, moving them only to discard them later. The time to get started is now, even if your move is months away. There’s no time like the present to start downsizing for your move to a senior living community. When the time comes, having less stuff will result in less stress and a pleasant moving experience.

Consider hiring a professional downsizing company to assist. There are companies that specialize in downsizing for seniors.”

Theron Ahlman CarePatrol of Nebraska - Headshot

Theron Ahlman
CarePatrol of Nebraska

In agreement, Theron Ahlman, Certified Senior Advisor and owner of CarePatrol of Nebraska further advises, “Although most families are always busy, I believe this time of year is a great time to go through things in the house. It’s hot outside and most are stuck inside, so why not look through old boxes to see what is needed and what can be donated or sold? At some point, most seniors are going to have to move or their house will be sold once they pass, so it makes sense to get ahead of the game and be better prepared. It can also give the senior time to remember the past when looking at items and deciding what items he or she wants to be passed along and to whom they should go. This step will make the moving process so much easier when it is time. Furthermore, if the situation doesn’t allow the senior to help, his or her wishes will have already been put in place as far as who got or gets what.”

Similar to our other industry experts, Ahlman also mentions this month and into the next being an ideal window of time to consider a move. “With the winter coming many seniors decide they don’t want to stay in their house as they don’t want to shove snow or worry about going out in the snow and ice to get supplies. Winter can also be very depressing for people, and seniors who live at home are particularly susceptible, so it can be extremely hard on them. With these things in mind starting the search early for a great community is always recommended. When asked by clients as to when to start looking I always tell them as soon as possible. Being prepared is absolutely wonderful and will only make the process less stressful, and helpful if an emergency situation comes up.

Also, being in a community around the holidays can bring out the joy again for that time of year instead of depression and loneliness. Christmas trees and holiday decorations are put up by someone else, the large meals are done by someone else and entertainment is brought in by someone else, which all helps make life simpler and less stressful. Families can also reserve the different rooms at the communities, which allows the entire family to come over and spend the holidays together. All while allowing their loved one to be comfortable in their home at the community but not have to go to any extra lengths to prepare.

If you know of someone who is struggling and the coming winter months might be tough on them, please reach out to us as we are here to help them find the safest and best community. Best of all, our services are 100% free to the seniors and families we help. We are here to make the process as simple as possible, so it can be something that’s fun, exciting and stress-free.

Please don’t let your loved one’s struggle with depression or go through caregiver burnout yourself. It’s all too common for people to suddenly find themselves in a bad position because they think things are fine. Really talk with one another, see what the senior may be going through, and truly understand how important it is to be around others while eating good food and taking their meds correctly. Discuss what needs to happen so he or she can enjoy life to the fullest. In our line of work we see too many bad situations and the winter months only make it worse, so please plan ahead and save yourself or your senior loved one from going through an issue that may require hospitalization, rehab, or a more severe change of lifestyle. CarePatrol of Nebraska can easily be reached at (402) 785-2262 anytime.”

Kyle Johnson Care Consultants for the Aging - Headshot

Kyle Johnson
Care Consultants for the Aging

Kyle Johnson, owner of Care Consultants for the Aging, offers even more ideas for outings and things to think about coming up. “For those who are able to take a little day trip, the AppleJack Festival in Nebraska City is a fantastic event that’s fun for all ages. Just getting out and enjoying your surroundings can positively influence your health and state of mind. Or, in closer proximity, there are great pumpkin patches in the area, but I’d advise avoiding the weekends if at all possible. Being around kids can be a mood booster for seniors, particularly if they’ve raised kids of their own or enjoy them. Sometimes family members aren’t available to accompany their senior loved ones, but that need not prevent involvement as there are plenty of other options to consider.

Getting connected with a local senior center will afford you many opportunities to take advantage of activities and social outings. Those in senior living communities also have the option of attending regularly scheduled events, and generally transportation is provided, which is nice. Or there are professionals who provide one-on-one in-home services that can be scheduled for as little as a few hours for an outing together or transportation to one.

Once the temperature starts to drop, it’s easy to become homebound. As far as safety is concerned, for seniors who are able to remain living at home, and especially for those who are living alone, at the very least having a life alert or call pendant to connect you with emergency response is a good idea.

Especialy for seniors who retired, staying involved socially is important, so it’s a good idea to have some things lined up ahead of time. Especially during the winter months, there are far too many seniors that sit at home alone all day, for days on end. When seniors have lost that interaction with others and the world outside the confines of their homes, they tend to dwell on the negatives. Just watching the news, very little of which is positive these days, can cause stress and depression that’s exacerbated by continued isolation. Our mood affects everything from appetite to hygiene to energy level and the motivation to be active and social.

Even something as simple as caregiver services – having someone to come over and provide companionship, monitor health and living conditions, help with tasks around the house, or take a senior out to run errands or attend an event – can be tremendously beneficial. There’s a vast amount of resources available to seniors, but in my line of work, we often find that many are apprehensive of taking advantage for a variety of reasons. Most notably, it’s a common misconception that it sounds expensive so therefore it must be, which causes people to dismiss perfectly viable options altogether. Struggling with the loss of independence is another worry for seniors; as we age, we find that we need more help, but it can be hard to ask for it because we don’t want to be a burden. But far too often I talk with people who wish they would’ve just asked sooner. Don’t wait too long and pass up opportunities, then find yourself in a bad situation. There’s no harm in reaching out for recommendations, asking plenty of questions, and seeking out help from others in your community who are here for you.”

Jinae Cherry Brookestone Meadows - Headshot

Jinae Cherry
Brookestone Meadows

Moving to a 55+ community or assisted living facility does have its benefits, particularly since the needs of this population have been identified and everything has been thoughtfully designed around them. For some, it is a more immediate and pressing need, while for others, it’s being considered as a suitable option but there’s no big rush, or it may not be in the plans at all for the near future. For those who find themselves in the latter two categories, Jinae Cherry, PTA Director of Therapy at Brookestone Meadows offers the following tips:

It is especially important for seniors to stay active in a wellness program in the community. Since it is very easy to become more sedentary after retirement, seniors must be intentional about their activity level to remain in good health. I personally appreciate aqua wellness classes for their use of the buoyancy property to help aid geriatric adults with joint pressure relief and freedom with mobility in a safe and secure environment.

If a condition you have is noticeable and beginning to interrupt your daily life, have a discussion with your doctor about ordering outpatient therapy services as a noninvasive approach to treatment. You’d be amazed at the services available for the geriatric population that will help keep you active and maintaining a high quality of life. There is no age limit to physical progress!

With respect to winter weather, ensure that the proper equipment and support is in place for upkeep of snow and ice such as proper footwear, snow blowers instead of shovels, or assistance with snow removal to avoid the potential for injury altogether. Our rehab department is very busy in the winter months offering therapy services to those who were unfortunately involved in ice/snow-related accidents.

I always suggest seniors ask family, friends, or caregivers for assistance with decorating their homes for the holiday season, especially with high surfaces where one would need to climb a ladder or hang decorations out of reach. There is no shame in getting support from your loved ones; in fact, take the opportunity to turn it into a tradition or memory that your family will cherish for years to come. If a gathering is happening outside of your home, I always encourage the use of handicapped-accessible transportation and transport wheelchairs, as it minimizes the difficulty and risk of injury while helping to sustain energy levels. This also includes fun activities yet this fall that many seniors enjoy out in the community, such as pumpkin patches, fall festivals, hayrack rides and costume parties.”

Barbara Thomas Notre Dame Housing - Headshot

Barbara Thomas
Notre Dame Housing

Barbara Thomas, Service Coordinator at Notre Dame Housing, also reinforces the importance of staying active and offers a few additional holiday-related tips.

“With the fall season approaching, I would recommend that seniors stay active by getting involved with activities that encourage social interaction such as local craft and hobby shows, dining out with friends, and taking advantage of senior center events.

Key things seniors can do to prepare for the winter months ahead consist of anticipating utility bill increases and seeking resources to help ease that burden, and budgeting for essential food items. These are factors that can prove to be real budget-busters for seniors, especially those with limited incomes.

Then there are the holidays, which can be lots of fun for older adults even if they’re not in the best physical or mental shape. Simply being included in the festivities brings joy and helps them enjoy the season. Nobody relishes the prospect of aging without a spouse or family member at their side or without friends to help them laugh at the ridiculous parts and support them through the difficult times.”

Thomas encourages seniors to do the following to ensure the most enjoyment during the holidays:

Acknowledge feelings. If someone close has died or you can’t be with loved ones, it’s normal to feel sadness or grief. It’s okay to cry and express your feelings.

Reach out. Seek social support; look for neighborhood, community, church or social events. Call a neighbor. Invite a friend for cookies or coffee. Volunteer at a food bank.

Remember loved ones. Make their favorite food, share memories around the dinner table, reminisce with a photo album, and light a memorial candle. Consider donating a charitable gift in their honor or helping someone else in their memory.

Take a breather. Learn to say no to stressful social or family obligations. Even if it’s just 15 minutes, treat yourself to something that brings joy.

Stay healthy. Get enough sleep; limit alcohol; continue exercising, even a simple walk around the block. Practice good health habits: eat right, get plenty of rest, and exercise regularly. Staying healthy reduces the intensity of the blues and its impact on daily activities.

Finally, she offers insight on access to critical services for seniors. “Although there are many, one key issue that affects seniors in our community is the unpredictability of Medicaid. Medicaid provides health coverage to more than 4.6 million low-income seniors, nearly all of whom are also enrolled in Medicare. Notre Dame Housing and its residents are voicing its concerns through a postcard campaign, which will urge our elected officials to not change Medicaid’s financing structure and oppose per capita caps and block grants because they will negatively impact seniors who need long-term services and support.

Social services, guided by service coordinators, empower seniors to have access to a healthy lifestyle and services. Notre Dame Housing is committed to quality and the use of best practices in social services to facilitate healthy, independent living. In addition to seniors with needed services, a service coordinator can be a personal guide to resources such as transportation, education, civic engagement, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Veterans Affairs benefits, and social opportunities.”

Many of us don’t really want to think about winter weather that will be here in just a few short months or all of the holiday madness quite yet (although of course there are those who wait with bated breath, we all know at least one). Yet, as you can see, there are some practical reasons and compelling arguments for making certain arrangements well in advance, particularly for seniors and their loved ones. If there’s one takeaway, it’s that no matter what you need, just ask, because there are a wide range of resources here in our community for the diverse population of seniors who call anywhere within the Omaha Metro home.