By Leon Grundstein, Founder and President of GenCare Lifestyle | Published article in the Tacoma News Tribune
Physical challenges, isolation and the overwhelm of living alone at home are significant reasons why people choose senior living communities. We also know that a sense of belonging often proves to be a powerful remedy to feeling alone.
I want you to meet Dottie and Steve. They’re neighbors at one of my senior living communities in the Puget Sound.
They chose human interaction, connection and community.
“I was falling so much,” Dottie said of the balance issues she experienced before moving in. “I just kind of isolated myself and it wasn’t healthy.” Dottie now says she doesn’t feel alone or scared anymore.
Supporting Dottie and residents like her is the essential mission that my teams are called to. It’s a privilege and responsibility. Dottie trusts us to take all steps possible to keep her safe and knows that we are working hard to meet and exceed the guidelines recommended by local and state health officials. This is our focus, 24-seven.
Steve’s reasons to move into a senior community differ. But the reason he stays is the same. While Steve has always lived on his own, he considers his senior living community a safe home base. This revelation was made clear before group gathering restrictions were issued early in the COVID-19 response. While participating in a building poetry gathering his heart stopped.
Staff members started CPR and an EMS crew took over, ultimately restarting his heart. Three weeks later, he’s back with an extreme sense of gratitude, a feeling shared by his adult children. “There isn’t anything that equals what they’ve given me,” Steve says of the building’s staff.
Retirement communities are home to hundreds of residents like Dottie and Steve – all with unique stories. All enjoy our senior living communities’ specific benefits and sense of connection. I know that many of my peers know of similar stories in their communities.
By current estimates, there are 50 million-plus adults age 65 and older who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. We worry about this important segment of our country. We know that this group is less equipped when states issue stay-at-home orders.
We’re concerned about others who, unlike Dottie and Steve, remain isolated without a supportive safety net – wondering about how they will get groceries and prescriptions.
At the same time, I know that Dottie and Steve are more equipped to thrive. Humans, by nature, are social. We survive longer, better and healthier in a social environment. While physical distancing limits the spread of the virus, older generations are at risk of becoming isolated and lonely – things that dull the ability to cope.
We know that interaction with others, supports mental health. Within a managed environment, senior living community teams help keep residents engaged, stimulated and connected – helping residents carry on and thrive.
Residents don’t have to risk compromising their health to put food on the table. We take care of the shopping and cooking. Essential items are provided by the building staff and brought to individual apartments. Professional teams are available 24 hours a day, providing ongoing monitoring for any changes in health and putting into place proactive measures to protect the health of our residents.
We hardwire this kind of connection.
To be stuck alone at home without a caregiver or even an intermittent visit from a friend, at best, is a Band-Aid for true socialization and providing support that residents need. Access to people and support makes us happier, more vigorous and acts as a monitor for health status.
“This place helps people feel less lonely,” Steve says. “I think that’s really important.”
As we watch COVID-19 impact our region, our neighbors need senior living communities now, more than ever. And we will continue to be there for them, advocating for their wellbeing, serving up support, human interaction and connection.
Leon Grundstein is founder and president of GenCare Lifestyle. The wellness-focused senior living company opened a 159-apartment, $64 million community at Point Ruston earlier this year. The community brings with it an additional 80 jobs to Tacoma. GenCare has served active adults for more than 20 years, currently operating six retirement communities in the Puget Sound.