Staying Strong
Seniors maintain their vibrancy at the area’s premier continuing care communities
by Jill Lupine

The Bible suggests Adam lived to the ripe old age of 930. Although Americans won’t live that long, the average lifespan in the United States has climbed to nearly 80 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (In Englewood, N.J., a woman named Agnes Fenton turned 110 this summer; she credits her longevity to plenty of sleep and prayer—and, according to news reports, a daily routine of downing three Miller Lite beers and a shot of Johnnie Walker whiskey.) With continued progress in the fields of medicine, technology and nutrition, the average lifespan in the United States will likely continue its steady uptick.

Some people on the doorstep of retirement approach the coming years with dubiousness, wondering how they can help ensure their “golden years” will be filled with richness and vibrancy of new experiences. After all, such adventures require not only the financial resources needed to fund them but—and this is perhaps even more important—also a healthy body to maximize one’s mobility.

Now more than ever, seniors have help on both fronts.

In the Greater Philadelphia Area’s many excellent continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), the enrichment programs, fitness centers and health care facilities have evolved to help residents stay as active and independent as possible for the duration of their lives. Having residents in their 90s working out in a state-of-the-art fitness center, doing laps in the pool or otherwise participating in personalized regimens of activities designed to keep their minds, bodies and spirits strong has become the rule rather than the exception.

At White Horse Village, for example, residents routinely walk and bike the tree-lined trails of Ridley Creek State Park, which abuts the community’s Newtown Square campus. They also partake in ample wellness/exercise facilities, staffed by qualified professionals who lead classes such as yoga, Zumba and aquatics. Residents’ commitment to their health and wellness appears to be paying off. Earlier this year, White Horse Village hosted the Friendship Games, a biannual event featuring teams from nearly 20 retirement communities across southeastern Pennsylvania. At the 2015 event, seniors competed in more than a dozen sporting events, ranging from croquet and swimming, to horseshoes and air-rifle marksmanship.

Likewise, at Pine Run Retirement Community in Doylestown, the residents—or “Villagers,” as they are known throughout the community’s 43-acre campus—are not far from Bucks County’s Peace Valley Park, which has an abundance of walking trails along the banks of Lake Galena and plenty of other vantage points for enjoying nature’s gifts. Even so, Villagers don’t need to leave the campus to experience the benefits of enrichment.

Pine Run places a strong emphasis on holistic wellness, meaning it focuses not only on Villagers’ physical health but also on their emotional, mental and spiritual wellness. Classes in aquatics and land-based exercises keep the body strong, meditation and Tai Chi feed the soul, and a continuing education initiative known as “Keep on Learning” hones the mind. Also, as part of its memory care program to help residents exhibiting symptoms of dementia, Pine Run offers music therapy as a way to “restore memories and bring even the most unresponsive residents to life,” according to Barbara Chierici, senior director of marketing for Pine Run.

“We have programs in which we ask family members to give us lists of music their loved one used to listen to, and we’ll load up an iPod with the playlist for that person,” she says. “The memory recall and responsiveness have been amazing. It helps [residents] engage with their families, recall milestone events and help them have conversations again.

“As a result, the resident is happier and more talkative, and on the clinical side, the residents are more engaged,” she continues. “Research shows that in nursing homes, [music therapy] can result in residents cutting their medication use in half. … I’m in awe of what it can do.”

Pine Run recently underwent an $11 million investment in facilities upgrades across all five floors of its health center. This includes a therapy gym, including a mini apartment used for occupational therapy, for residents who have undergone a fall, a stroke or some other health event. The therapy gym is encircled by a track with markers used for benchmarking a person’s progress, according to Chierici.

“We can also do a home evaluation, where we will go home with the person to help them navigate the front steps,” she says. “An occupational therapist can give advice for bed placement or where a lamp should be, to make sure the lighting is in the right spots and also identify potential tripping hazards. We’ve gotten a lot of wows for that.

“The paradigms are moving quickly,” she continues. “A big term now is ‘life plan communities.’ LeadingAge is a not-for-profit governing our industry, and instead of the term CCRC, they’re referring to places like ours as life plan communities. This addresses the idea that it’s most important to have a plan in place to discover the right place for you, one that’s not necessarily involved with care and more focused on wellness—living longer and better in a place where family members see their loved ones actually having a better quality of life rather than a life in decline.”

All Things Considered
Senior living communities such as these are investing significant sums to offer new onsite resources, as well as create new experiences designed to enhance residents’ lives off campus. From fully equipped fitness centers and pools, to technology-equipped community centers and fine-dining restaurants, options abound. Beyond the on-campus enhancements, however, many communities continue to invest in education and entertainment programs. Whether residents seek to volunteer, learn something new through a college-level class or visit local destinations, such as historic sites or cultural hallmarks, today’s senior living communities are making new experiences more accessible than ever.

Part of what makes today’s retirement communities so appealing is the notion of secure lifelong care that adapts to residents’ needs as their health and lifestyles change. Instead of fretting over the details of doctors’ appointments or home maintenance, residents can spend their time focused on doing the things they love. For many, this is perhaps the most alluring aspect of living in a retirement community. Residents, as well as their family members, have the confidence of knowing that they are well taken care of in place that enables them to enjoy life as independently as possible.

The decision to relocate to a retirement community is not always an easy one, as it encompasses a host of complex factors. This includes not only determining the “personality” of each community—its location, amenities and breadth of enrichment programs, as well as the associated costs—to the community’s long-term financial health. When vetting communities, prospective residents should consider asking questions about everything from the governance of the community, to the results of the community’s resident satisfaction surveys, among others.

Considerations aside, retirement communities have made it easier than ever for seniors to enjoy an enriching, worry-free lifestyle at a new place that feels like home. Starting this new chapter, however, starts long before moving day. Well in advance, prospective residents should take the time to speak with their spouses, adult children and essential advisers who can help them weigh these important decisions, such as the details of funding a move to the logistics of downsizing from an existing home. These conversations will not only create a clear picture for the future but also provide family members with the reassurance of knowing their loves ones will be partaking in a lifestyle built around comfort, enjoyment and independence.

Lastly, considering the limited supply and rising demand for coveted spaces in the area’s premier retirement communities, it’s important not to wait too long. Oftentimes, retirement communities have a longer wait list than prospective residents would like. As such, starting the dialogue sooner rather than later can make all the difference between starting a new life in the community of one’s choice and having to settle for a lesser option.

Thankfully, the many senior living communities in the Greater Philadelphia Area can facilitate the conversation so residents can begin the next chapter of their lives—what Chierici refers to as “the bonus years”—as soon as possible, and on their own terms.