In last week’s post, I discussed the importance of not only visiting the healthcare center at the continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) you are considering, but also doing some due diligence research to ensure they will provide you with the quality of care you expect, should you ever need it.

In that post, I noted that many prospective CCRC residents resist checking out the healthcare center, despite the fact that the readily available care it offers is one of the key reasons that many people opt to move to a CCRC in the first place. And I understand this resistance.

>> Related: How to Know If a CCRC’s Healthcare Center Will Meet Expectations

Let’s take a journey back in time…

You may not remember every detail, but you can probably catch glimpses in your mind’s eye: the cream-colored floors and walls, the dated-looking artwork and furniture, the patients in hospital beds and wheelchairs, some staring blankly off into the distance. And of course, the smell: some combination of bleach and other unappealing scents.

This scene is likely reflective of many people’s memories of visits to an aging parent or grandparent in a long-term care facility like a nursing home (which provides for medically necessary needs) or assisted living community (which includes non-medical care such as help with activities of daily living [ADLs]), many of which evolved out of former almshouses. For many years, this was a pretty universal experience, and it’s probably why so many people still have a bad association with the mere term, “nursing home.”

Even though many of these long-term care communities provided their residents with compassionate, quality care, the industry, understandably, had a public perception problem. Indeed, there are some aspects of nursing care that will never change. We all age, and with that comes frailty and often other health conditions. Stepping foot inside a nursing home forces us to confront our own possible futures, to some degree.

But this brings me back to last week’s post and why I encourage CCRC prospects to actually tour the community’s healthcare center, even if it may be emotionally difficult to face the realities of aging. By doing so, you will see that many of today’s long-term care communities are making tremendous improvements to their physical buildings and environments.

In addition to the top-quality care services they offer and their warmer, more welcoming aesthetics, modern long-term care facilities also are finding new and improved ways to create meaningful and therapeutic experiences for their residents.

>> Related: So I’ll Probably Need Long-Term Care, But for How Long?

Equine therapy

I recently read about an assisted living community in Tucson called The Hacienda at the River, which has incorporated horses into their programming.

“In The Presence of Horses” encourages therapeutic connections between their residents, about half of whom have dementia, and horses that live on-site. The horses (who are referred to as “staff members”) offer the residents both companionship and unconditional love, and residents often show improvement in their emotional state after interactions with the equines.

Gardening for good

The Hacienda also has developed a gardening program for their residents, allowing them to plant and harvest food—fresh produce that is then used in the community’s kitchen. I wrote about a CCRC in Charlotte, Aldersgate, that has a similar “urban farm” program for residents where they grow healthy fruits and vegetables for both their CCRC’s kitchen, as well as for residents in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Reminiscence therapy

You may recall the blog post I wrote a few months ago about Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a nursing home in the Bronx, which has created an innovative reminiscence therapy program for their residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other types of dementia.

Because scent and memory are so closely tied (as evidenced by our mental journey back to that nursing home you visited so many years ago), the Hebrew Home has installed a reminiscence therapy olfactory exhibit where their residents can enjoy various scents that may be associated with earlier memories. A recent exhibit included the smells you’d find at the ballpark, like buttered popcorn and hotdogs. Triggering such recollections can evoke feelings of happiness and also can stimulate the brain’s memory function.

Intergenerational programs

Still another assisted living community has created a popular intergenerational program by starting an on-campus Montessori-style preschool. The Golden Oaks Village, an assisted living community in Stillwater, Oklahoma, gives residents the opportunity to work with preschool-age children in a creative and nurturing environment that benefits both the seniors and the children.

I’m a big proponent of intergenerational programs like this and have blogged on this topic previously.

Art therapy

A common issue among those with memory-related conditions is frustration around communication challenges. Some assisted living communities are incorporating art therapy into their programming to help ease their residents’ stress around this issue.

Commonwealth Senior Living in Virginia, for example, developed the “Expressions” program for their residents, during which residents work one-on-one with an art therapist. They are presented with objects that may help stir past memories or resonate with them on an emotional level, inspiring the urge to create artwork and/or talk about their feelings. By expressing themselves through art, residents’ concentration and attention often improve, and their anxiety decreases.

>> Related: How Does Nursing Home Billing Work?

An evolving industry

So, as you can see, today’s nursing homes and assisted living communities offer much more than the sterile, mundane image you may have in your head. They are providing innovative and inspiring programming to their residents in a warm environment designed around their unique physical and mental health needs. And this is why I recommend you tour the healthcare center in the CCRC you are considering so you can see for yourself the atmosphere and programming they provide.

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