Independent living: a community of friends

Story and photos by Paige Fieldsted

When you walk into Parklane Senior Apartments in downtown Salt Lake City, residents can be heard laughing and telling jokes. Men and women prepare to go out into the brisk November air. Staff bustle about, interacting pleasantly with the residents. If you close your eyes and just listen you might think you were in a university common area or workplace break room, not a retirement home.

Carma Lunt and Pat Grossman gossip over lunch in the atrium at Parklane Senior Apartments.

Residents appear happy. Sitting down for lunch with Carma Lunt, 80, and Pat Grossman, 76, reinforces that notion. The two women laugh and joke with each other as they gossip about their neighbors.

Independent living communities like Parklane not only provide opportunities to make new friends, but also usually include all amenities and activities for residents.

Jamie York, director of marketing at Parklane, said that despite all the amenities and what she describes as “resort-style living,” most older people are reluctant to move away from their homes and are afraid of giving up their freedom and independence. She said, however, they usually transition smoothly once they arrive.

“Once they get here and see what it’s like they say, ‘Why did I wait so long?’” York said.

The luxury of having meals, laundry service and transportation on site comes with a price, though. Units at Parklane range in price from $2,500-$4,000 a month. Lunt said although the rates may seem high, it was actually cheaper to live at Parklane than it would have been to maintain her own house.

“By the time you pay taxes and utilities and everything else I just decided it would be cheaper,” Lunt said.

Even though all amenities are included, not all seniors may be financially able to live in a place like Parklane. York said they frequently offer specials that reduce rates by $300-$500 a month. She also said veterans are often eligible for a stipend that can help cover the cost of rent.

“Lots of people think places like this are out of reach,” York said. “But once they sit down and really look at everything, more people can afford it than think they can.”

Other independent living communities around the valley have similar pricing and amenities to that of Parklane. Highland Cove and The Coventry have units ranging from $1,900 for a studio to $3,300 for two bedrooms. Millcreek retirement has one and two bedroom units ranging from $2,395-$2,695.

York said planning ahead and looking into independent living options sooner rather than later makes it easier for residents and their family to work out finances. And the social interaction and freedom offered by independent communities can be priceless.

Although both Lunt and Grossman have lived at Parklane less than a year, they have become fast friends. Grossman points to Lunt when asked what her favorite thing about living there is.

“You make good friends,” Lunt said. “Her family is my family and my family is her family so you do have that relationship here, which is really good.”

At Parklane new residents are greeted by a welcoming committee and set up with other residents to accompany them to meals in order to help them make friends faster. York said the staff has the welcoming down to a science.

“Here there is no new kid on the bus,” York said. “People usually make friends quickly.”

Not only is the retirement community great for making friends, but it also has produced several couples throughout the years. Although most of the community’s residents are single females, York said a few couples live in the building and there are a few who met at Parklane and are now married and living together.

“We’ve even got a love boat kind of thing going on here,” York said, laughing.

Lunt and Grossman gossip about the couples who have emerged since they moved to Parklane, saying they have seen a few couples get married and others who are “coupled up” but not married. The women erupt into giggles reminiscent of junior high days when they talk about the couples at Parklane.
The women stop their storytelling every few minutes to say hi to residents walking by; they seem to know everybody. Lunt said every Wednesday some of the residents open a convenience-store-like shop that sells toilet paper, soap, cards and other household items, and that the business keeps her in the loop.

“That keeps me knowing the people here and the way they act and the things they do,” Lunt said. “It keeps you entertained.”

It’s the social interaction aspect that makes independent living facilities worthwhile for seniors looking to retain their independence.

“When seniors live alone they can get lonely with no social interaction,” York said. “They can get depressed; they stop eating and are more susceptible to falls. People that have social interaction live longer, so when they live at home alone their life span decreases.”

A study in the June 2009 issue of the “Archives of Internal Medicine” showed that elderly people who are more socially active retain their motor skills longer. The study found that a decrease in social activity increased risk of dying or developing a disability by 50 percent.

Lunt, who used to live in an assisted living facility, said that living in an independent living facility provides much more social interaction.

“When I lived there, there were only about four people I could have a conversation with,” Lunt said.

At most independent living facilities residents must be able to take care of their own needs and not require 24-hour medical attention. Lunt said residents needing lots of attention either must have an aide to help them full-time or move elsewhere.

The atrium at Parklane is a social hub of activity where residents enjoy most of their meals and activities.

Residents at Parklane have the option to enjoy three restaurant-style meals or cook something for themselves in their full kitchens. Most residents prefer to eat the meals in the atrium, not only for ease but also for dietary purposes.

“I eat all my meals here,” Lunt said. “I can cook better food than they serve but because I have diabetes it is healthier to eat down here.”

Meals are one of the many amenities offered at independent living communities like Parklane. Most facilities offer housecleaning and transportation services and set up activities for the residents to participate in.
Both women agree that while they like the housekeeping and meals, they enjoy their independence as well.

“It’s like having your own place,” Lunt said. “It’s very independent living. I have my own car so I can go where I want and do what I want to do. You’re really on your own and can do what you want.”

While most residents participate in the activities, it is the housekeeping, meals and maintenance that the residents really enjoy. Lunt said before she moved to independent living, taking care of her house was almost overwhelming.

“I kept thinking ‘What am I doing in this house, taking care of these things by myself when I would a lot rather be waited on?’” she said.

York said most residents come to Parklane at the request of their children.
But Lunt’s son, Scott, said it was his mom’s idea to move into a retirement community. Scott said he and his siblings first brought up the idea but were quickly corrected by their mother.

“I didn’t know where I was moving but I just decided I wasn’t going to be responsible for a house anymore,” Lunt said. “That is why I moved here because I didn’t want anyone to be responsible for me.”