Senior living service takes weight off children’s shoulders

When Old Greenwich resident Michele Graham’s 83-year-old mother had to deal with the impact of Superstorm Sandy and then suffered a mild stroke within a two-month period, she knew her mother couldn’t live alone anymore.

Fortunately, Ms. Graham said, she was able to turn to Senior Living Options LLC — a free placement and referral service that provides personalized assistance and local market knowledge of senior living options throughout Connecticut, the metropolitan New York area, lower New England, and Westchester County.

The Stamford-based company was founded a little more than a year ago by Ann Jamison, a marketing and client advisement professional who recognized the growing need for senior living care. With the country’s senior population projected by the U.S. Census Bureau to double in size during the period of 2000 to 2030, Ms. Jamison knew many adult children would need a personalized resource to help their parents get the care they require, and she promptly launched her business.

“I saw a need for concierge-level service for adult children who are sandwiched between the needs of their family and the needs of their aging parents,” Ms. Jamison said in a press release. “They are stretched on time and need someone to do research, accompany them on facility tours and help them evaluate options. While the Internet can be a good starting point, it cannot address unique distinctions, including a senior’s individual medical, social and economic needs,” she said.

Senior Living Options visits and analyzes dozens of area senior communities each year. Ms. Jamison said she also maintains a detailed database on care services, pricing, and amenities and has created a two-page checklist of items that inform a successful match. The checklist covers a range of residence options — independent retirement living, assisted living, dementia care, respite/short-stay care, and nonmedical home care — and everything from activities and meals to interior décor and outdoor grounds.

Family challenges

With a parent reluctant to leave her home of more than 50 years and a sibling who lives out of state, Ms. Graham told the Post that Ms. Jamison’s market knowledge and free services were vital to relocating her mother to a place best suited for her. After years of resistence, Ms. Graham said, her mother finally agreed to move from her Long Island home to an apartment in Long Beach, N.Y., as it was still close to her old home and she had friends nearby.

When the family eventually narrowed down the search for an apartment, however, it became a moot point, as shortly afterward the area was washed out by Superstorm Sandy. The storm didn’t cause severe damage to her mother’s home, Ms. Graham said, but it was destructive enough to wipe out her car and unnerve the elderly woman, who had been living on her own for 18 years since the death of her husband.

Then in December 2012, shortly after the storm hit, Ms. Graham said, her mother suffered a mild stroke. Although she was fortunate enough not to have been mentally or severely physically disabled by the episode, her body was greatly weakened and it was clear based on her condition and advice from a neurologist that the then 83-year-old no longer had the option of living alone.

With a brother in New Jersey, a sister in Stamford and plenty of job-related obligations, Ms. Graham didn’t have time to do the proper research necessary to place her mother in the senior living community best suited for her, she said. Having done marketing business with Ms. Jamison before, however, Ms. Graham said she knew where to turn for guidance.

Ms. Jamison told Ms. Graham and her siblings that she would take care of everything and asked them for a list of features they would require of a senior living community to best satisfy their mother’s needs. The family told Ms. Jamison that their mother was in “good shape” and would need a vibrant community to be a part of. Because her mother is shy and would be new to the area, however, a place with plenty of programming and activities was also necessary, Ms. Graham said.

Additionally, she said, her mother is very culturally Jewish and would desire a significant Jewish population in whatever facility was selected. Finally, Ms. Graham said, the family asked that Ms. Jamison find a place where a graduated level of care would be available if necessary.

Finding the right home

The next time the family, including Ms. Graham’s mother, met with Ms. Jamison, the expert had narrowed down the most appropriate senior living communities to five locations, which the family quickly narrowed down to three. Shortly afterward, on a Saturday in early February 2013, Ms. Jamison led the family on a tour of the facilities to view the accommodations and meet with managers and directors.

While taking the tours, Ms. Jamison asked questions that Ms. Graham and her family never would have thought to inquire about, she said. For instance, what kind of support can be provided if the senior needs someone to stand by for a few minutes as she showers because she’s nervous about falling and getting hurt?

After viewing facilities in Darien and Stamford, the last stop was a senior living community in Rye Brook, N.Y. — a place hardly even on the family’s radar, Ms. Graham said. After viewing the facility, Ms. Graham, her mother and siblings and Ms. Jamison sat down together to discuss their reactions.

Somehow, Ms. Graham said, she and her siblings, who rarely agree on anything, had all decided that the Rye Brook community was the best place for their mother. It was, at least in part, Ms. Jamison’s objectivity and industry knowledge that kept the family solidified in the decision, Ms. Graham said.

“It really defused the situation, and I think it gave my mother a level of comfort that there was somebody who was really expert in doing this,” she said.

After confirming that the Rye Brook senior living community was the best match, Ms. Jamison walked the family through the logistics of signing the contract as well as the process of selecting the appropriate apartment size for their mother, Ms. Graham said. Within two weeks, a deposit on an apartment had been put down and by the end of March, Ms. Graham’s mother was completely moved into her new home.

After the family had signed the lease, Ms. Jamison added another perk to her services by arranging a dinner for Ms. Graham’s mother with a couple and a single woman who had recently moved in, in order to get a sense of what the community, food and atmosphere at her new home would be like, Ms. Graham said.

“These people were so nice and so charming and so sweet,” Ms. Graham said of community residents. The majority of them don’t really want to be there, “but they understand that this is the best place for them and it gives peace of mind to them and it gives peace of mind to their children,” she said.

Helping relocations

Parents often say they don’t want to be a burden on their children, Ms. Graham said. “What they don’t realize is that when they live independently at a certain age it’s a burden to worry about them,” she said.

Before working with Ms. Jamison, Ms. Graham and her mother argued about relocation for more than three years. The circumstances were greatly  upsetting, Ms. Graham said, especially in light of her close relationship with her mother.

“This was putting a wedge between us,” Ms. Graham said.

Without Ms. Jamison’s help, the process of relocating her mother could have been devastating, Ms. Graham said. Without expert assistance, the operation would have taken much longer, the family would have argued continually and each child would ultimately have ended up wondering if they had made the right decision for their mother.

Adult children enter “a whole new world” when they make the decision to relocate their parents to a senior living facility, Ms. Graham said. Fortunately, Ms. Jamison knows what questions to ask and has whole range of related knowledge of conditions and circumstances that Ms. Graham and her siblings could never have hoped to acquire if they’d been through the process on their own, she said. The Senior Living Options founder helps families save time and understands that each individual case is different and must be personalized accordingly, she added.

“She gives you peace of mind. You can’t put a price on that,” Ms. Graham said. “The anxiety leading up to something like this is worse than the actuality,” and anything that can be done to lessen that anxiety “makes for a more successful fit,” she said.

Ms. Graham’s mother has since acclimated to her new home beautifully, Ms. Graham said. She realizes that there are benefits to living in a group community, she said. “I think she’s very happy.”

More importantly, Ms. Graham’s mother is closer to her family and no longer has to miss out on important events, Ms. Graham said. In the spring, she was able to see her granddaughter dress up for her junior prom, and it was the first time she’d had the opportunity to see a grandchild prepare for such a milestone.

Finally, Ms. Graham said, her mother can be part of the “little special moments” that unite the family.

Information about Senior Living Options may be found at seniorlivingoptionsne.com or by contacting Ann Jamison at 203-359-5777 or [email protected] Senior Living Options’ offices are located at 6 Landmark Square in Stamford.

 

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