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Senior Living CommunitiesMore older adults consider community living | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors

More older adults consider community living | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors

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Marilyn Seidenberg always planned to move to Avila, a retirement community in Albany. But, at 77, she was healthy and independent. She wasn’t ready.

Then came the pandemic.

Seidenberg could no longer visit her daughter in Maryland and she was afraid to leave her apartment. She reached out to the staff at Avila and within two months, Seidenberg had moved into an apartment in the 192-unit complex off Washington Avenue Extension.

“The only reason I’m here is because of the pandemic,” Seidenberg, who moved in August,  said while chatting with friends in Avila’s resort-style lobby Monday.

“Here I don’t have to look at four walls, I can come downstairs and go to the library or the bistro or do puzzles. There are amenities,” she said.

While move-ins have dipped during the pandemic at Avila, according to CEO Shawn Hall, he is presenting the community as a better alternative for retirees than staying in single-family homes or apartments that lack the type of services Avila provides: security, meals and opportunities to mingle with others in a safe environment.

Hall put protocols in place to keep residents safe during the pandemic but have loosened now that all of the residents are fully vaccinated. The dining room, which was was closed,  is open now  at 75 percent capacity. Visits that were also halted have resumed, with stipulations. Visitors must present proof of a negative COVID-19 test or show their vaccination card. Masks are also mandatory.

But Hall said the Avila staff was able to reach out to residents throughout the pandemic to let them know they weren’t alone. Residents formed small bubbles with friends who visited with each other. A few Avila tenants did contract COVID-19, but the cases were mild, Hall said. When vaccinations arrived, Hall held a clinic at Avila. The average age in the community is 87;  32 percent of the residents are 90 or older. Rent ranges from $2,600 per month to $4,600.

“I’m thrilled I’m here,” Seidenberg said. “This way I’m not isolated and my daughter feels comfortable knowing someone checks on me everyday.”

Lois Celeste, executive director of the Saratoga Senior Center, said the pandemic sparked a “million-dollar question”: Will the pandemic cause more seniors to sell their homes and move to places designed for older adults? Or will they be more likely to stay put, where they have complete control over their environment — even if it means long stretches with no in-person interaction?

“We’re not far enough out to predict the changes,” Celeste said. “People are just getting vaccinated and now they’re starting to assess their choices. We do a lot of services for people who are aging in place. We’re starting to see people coming out, but my biggest concern is people who are isolated will become too comfortable with it and keeping seniors from being isolated is the base mission for what we do.”

Kathy DeLaMater, another Avila resident and, like Seidenberg, also a retired teacher, knew it would not be a good idea for her to live alone after her husband, John, died in January 2019. He wanted her to go to Avila, where they had friends. The move was delayed while DeLaMater underwent surgeries and waited for the apartment she wanted.

“I need to be with people and, praise God, John left me with the money to be able to be here,” DeLaMater said.

Diane Conroy-LaCivita, executive director of Colonie Senior Services, saw firsthand the impact of isolation on the population she serves.

“The shutdown was tremendously difficult if they didn’t have the socialization they had prior to the pandemic,” Conroy-LaCivita said. “We were taking calls from people worried about their self-worth, concerns about suicide. We had people call who would just cry, or yell.”

Staff at the nonprofit dropped by nearly half, she said, and the people who remained started volunteering on the weekends to grocery shop for people, pick up prescriptions and make well-being calls to let people know they weren’t alone and someone was thinking about them.

The experience was eye-opening, Conroy-LaCivita said. “Location matters. Where do you find yourself with socialization and sense of purpose? If you’re staying in the place where you raised your kids, is it really the best place for this phase of your life?”

The nonprofit operates three buildings for seniors, the Beltrone Living Center, a middle income 55-plus housing community; King Thiel, classified as affordable housing, and Sheehy Manor, for low-to-moderate income seniors.

“We’re going to be slammed by people who were stuck in their homes and now they want to move, people who never thought they would do it,” Conroy-LaCivita said.

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