By Colleen Shirley, ParkGate, North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazine

Life is full of choices and that is usually a good thing. Our whole life, we are told to make choices wisely. And to do that, about anything, we need to educate ourselves. The same applies to everyone as we age. Unfortunately, it’s my experience that when people hear the words “senior living” often the first thing that comes to mind is a nursing home. Actually, in “senior living” we have a great deal of choices. And choices help to give people more of a variety, because all people are not the same––not in health or aging. Let’s discuss the various choices available.

Of course, if you’re needing constant medical attention, or bedridden, a nursing home is needed. However, if you need something less, but still need help in daily activities (such as bathing, dressing, and taking your medications), an assisted living facility is usually less expensive and more home-like. In addition, if you have someone with Alzheimer’s or memory care issues, there are facilities that deal in this and provide extra care. All of these: nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and Alzheimer’s/memory care facilities are regulated and licensed. There are also many retirement communities, also known as independent living communities, available. In addition, there are places called “congregate care,” meaning they provide a combination of independent living, assisted living, nursing home, and Alzheimer’s care (or some of these).

As we age, we may find we’re becoming more isolated, possibly not eating balanced meals regularly, and need some help in maintaining our homes. This certainly does not mean you need a nursing home, yet staying in your home may not be the best choice for you. There are numerous independent living communities from which to choose. You just need to shop around and compare and see what fits your needs. Again, remember, it is your choice.

In retirement living/independent living communities, besides price and entry fees, some of the items you should compare and educate yourself about are:

Staff: You want a staff that is caring and not constantly changing. Make sure management does a background check on their employees and find out from the management how dependable and honest their staff has been in the past. This is probably key to any place you would choose to live.

Services: See what is included. Generally, independent living includes some meal service, some transportation, housekeeping and linen service.

Meals may or may not be included; and they may provide meals at an extra cost. Menus may be provided weekly or monthly or quarterly. Some communities do not allow you to take any food out of the dining rooms––others do. Some communities prepare meals on site daily and for each meal and you can talk with the chef. Other places bring meals in to their location and serve the same meal for lunch and dinner. Food is generally important to residents, and you should ask questions about this.

Transportation can be provided at no cost to scheduled doctor’s appointments or other appointments, or there may be a charge; and it may be provided in a car or a bus.

Housekeeping is generally provided weekly, but again, this is up to each community.

Activities can include bingo, entertainment, parties, and trips to the library, grocery stores, banks, post offices, museums, theatres, and others.

Some communities have employees around-the-clock; others choose not to have employees on staff after business hours or on weekends.

Talk to other residents of an independent living community and find out how long they have lived there and get their thoughts. It is good to go on several visits and to try the food yourself.

Again, I can speak from experience. Age cannot determine where you should live. But being social and having meals with others is proven to keep us more active and alert. You can be 101 and live in an independent living community, or be much younger and live in a nursing home. It depends on your health, needs and your attitude. But, in general, continuing to make wise choices can help you have quality of life as you age.

Congregate Care Communities: These communities offer various levels of service. Again, it is my experience, that this can be a good for someone extremely worried about needing more care as they age, or for a couple that have various needs. However, it can also be a problem for someone who doesn’t need more care, yet feels like they will be going to that next level. Again, this is a choice, an option. See what is right for you!

But next time you hear someone say the words “senior living,” ask that person what they are referring to and help educate them about the various choices.

Colleen Shirley is the owner of ParkGate. She invites you to call 214-219-1091 to schedule a complimentary lunch and tour of the ParkGate community.