LeathamQ: A generation ago we had “nursing homes.” Now, we refer to facilities as “senior care communities.” Is this just a fancy name, or has a there really been a change in the options available to retirees?

A: Actually there is a huge difference. A generation is not such a long time, but a great deal has happened – and it started in Oregon in the late 1980s when it became obvious that we were simply warehousing our elders who needed assistance. Folks were all lumped into the same category of “she/he just can’t stay at home any longer!” The image of people sitting all day with blank eyes was not far from wrong, but the manner in which we debilitated people who had a huge variety of needs but an ability to be independent in other ways, was very wrong. The consequence was the evolution of true Assisted Living.

Q: I hear that term a lot. What does it encompass?

A: We now have “independent living,” for those who don’t want the maintenance of a single home, but who are still very capable of taking care of themselves; “assisted living,” which is for people who need assistance with one or more tasks of daily living; “rehabilitation/skilled nursing facilities,” which are for people who will rehabilitate and probably be able to return to a more independent or lightly assisted life, as well as those who require the skilled services of a registered nurse or a larger staff; and “memory care,” which is a secure, homelike environment dedicated to those who suffer from a diagnosis of a dementia.

Q: It’s a bit overwhelming. How does one figure out if any of these options are a good fit?

A: There are many good communities that serve each level of need. Some communities provide all the options listed above, while others, particularly “rehabilitation/skilled nursing” are found in "stand alone" facilities. When we receive a call of inquiry, we ask certain questions about the prospective resident that pertain to their age, diagnosis, history, likes and dislikes, current memory, etc. With a really good conversation, we can make a preliminary determination and suggestion.

Q: Is it okay to “shop around?”

Absolutely. The decision is difficult and very important. Residents don't want another move in their lifetime if at all possible. So have this conversation with a few communities, and then go visit. Above all, unless there is profound dementia, let the prospective resident be a part of the decision and of the move. To the degree that it can be maintained, life is all about dignity and choice.

Kathleen Leatham is the administrator of Forest Grove Beehive Assisted Living Community and Hawthorne House Memory Care in Forest Grove. She can be reached at 503-357-6409.

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