Emeritus Salt Lake focuses on building relationships with residents

Story and photo by IAN SMITH

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Emeritus Salt Lake offers care to its residents.

Picture yourself as an elder, and you know your time on this earth is decreasing. You know you can no longer take care of yourself. You need assistance. To everyone else, it may be time for a nursing home.

You pack up your stuff. Where did the time go, you keep asking yourself? How did life flash that fast and how has it come to this? You set off in the car that takes you to the home. As you pull up your first impression is that it could work for you. But you still have many questions and not that many answers.

“No one wants to go into a nursing home,” said Anne Palmer Peterson, executive director of the Utah Commission on Aging. The Utah Legislature created the commission in 2005 to address issues related to the fast-growing aging population in the state. Peterson said it is a young state, but it also is the “sixth-fastest aging state in the nation.” Among other things, the commission has studied housing options for older adults. The findings were published in New Trends in Housing for Utah’s Aging Population.

“We want people to be thinking proactively about their futures,” she said.

Even so, it can be difficult to leave all of your memories behind you.

The idea of a “nursing home” isn’t too appealing to many people, though.

Brian Culliton, the executive director at Emeritus Salt Lake at 76 South and 500 East, said people have very different opinions of nursing homes.

Every facility is different, whether it’s a nursing home or assisted living center. Some facilities, like Emeritus, offer help for certain issues residents might be dealing with. Dementia, for example, is taken very seriously at the assisted living facility.

“We provide a family orientation with a caretaker,” Culliton said in a phone interview. “We have a well rounded understanding of what that resident’s day looks like. We want to keep it routine. We have other care providers that will come and talk to give a better understanding of the disease.”

Culliton said the staff and volunteers who work at Emeritus Salt Lake are passionate about the work they do and want nothing more than to help the people they are caring for.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

Emeritus Salt Lake is located at 76 South 500 East.

“I’m really passionate about attracting the right [residents],” he said. “It’s that feeling of leaving home if anyone has dementia, you’re leaving your familiar space. You’ve been there for 50-plus years and now you’re going to a new space. It goes back to that care.”

Culliton knows that some older adults are afraid to be alone. But, sometimes that fear prevents people from seeking help.

He said Emeritus Salt Lake aims to offer more than just the borderline help. Staff go above and beyond to help the new residents by developing a personal relationship with them as soon as they walk in the door. Residents are given an orientation and shown around the building.

“With assisted living, every department head goes and introduces themselves and gives them the care that they expect,” Culliton said. “We look at it as kind of like a marriage. Know each other right up front. If we look at the process at the point when somebody applies, we go to their house or hospital and get to know the family immediately and when they move in, we talk about what is best and how to care for the seniors.”

Markel Martinez, a resident assistant at Emeritus Salt Lake, knows how important it is to build relationships. He has had residents find friends at the facility and even fall in love.

“I would want the resident to know that I’m there to help them,” Martinez said. “To be their friend that they can trust and talk to.”

Utah seniors calling assisted-living facilities home

by Gillian King

Individuals who live in assisted-living facilities may very well be lost without them. According to Brett Burns, executive director of the Wellington Senior Residence, people most commonly enter an assisted-living facility when they are in need of more interaction, activities and care than they are otherwise receiving. At what age this occurs is different for everyone, but at the Wellington the average age of the residents is about 84 years old.

Senior citizens living in assisted-living facilities are able to engage in activities with friends who also live there. This gives them the much-needed interaction that can sometimes be lacking when seniors live alone, or with family members who may have other obligations to tend to.

“The fountain of youth is being active, both mentally and physically,” said Scott Wright, the director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program at the University of Utah.

Assisted-living facilities can be seen as places that deter getting old, instead of places where people go once they are already old. According to Burns, keeping their bodies fit and their minds sharp with the available activities can keep the residents of assisted-living facilities feeling more youthful longer.

The care provided at an assisted-living facility goes beyond the bonds of friendship and delves into life’s necessities. Residents are helped with tasks such as medication monitoring, meal preparation and bathing.

“The bathroom is really just a bad place for older adults,” Wright said.

A decrease in mobility translates to an increased risk of slipping or falling. Fear of injury convinces many seniors to look at assisted-living facilities as an option. With the additional care that such a facility is able to provide, Burns said the risk of accidents is reduced considerably as compared to living at home.

Many facilities, such as the Wellington, provide the benefit of having balanced, nutritional meals made for residents three times a day. Burns said this gives them the essential nutrition they may otherwise be lacking due to inability to provide it for themselves.

As people age it may become increasingly difficult to care for the yard and home. Also, many seniors have reported feeling less safe in their homes as they age.

“Older adults have the highest fear of crime of any age group,” Wright said.

Taking this into consideration, it is understandable why more seniors are turning to options such as assisted-living facilities, even though Wright said the chance of a senior citizen actually being a victim of a crime is quite low.

Safety and peace of mind come with a price tag, however. Burns said cost is the No. 1 reason why people choose to not live in an assisted-living center.

“If your nest egg isn’t huge it can be difficult. On average it can cost $2,000 to $3,000 per month,” he said.

Wright said being able to live in your own home for as long as possible is what the aging community collectively aims for. However, there comes a point where it may no longer be an option. Even living with family members becomes less possible over time, because the care a person needs exceeds the abilities of the family and the time it can provide.

Individuals may also need more social interaction and activities than what they receive at the home of their family.

Putting a family member in an assisted-living facility may not always be the first route people choose, but it often ends up being worth considering.

Wright said people will generally care for an older adult longer than they will their own children.

But, there comes a time when they must make decisions about living arrangements. Burns said the Wellington sees anywhere from two to five new residents each month.

Families face difficult decisions when it comes to aging parents

by Jenna Cannon

She could sense that her memory was slipping away. So, at age 92, Phyllis Duncan made a life-changing decision. She wanted to move into an assisted living facility.

On the other hand, 95-year-old Beth Harris decided to stay at home. This choice enabled her to maintain her independence but required assistance from her family.

The choice of moving into an assisted living facility or remaining at home is not only a hard decision for an aging person, it is also hard on the family.

Duncan had seen other families go through hardships when faced with caring for elderly parents so she decided to take matters into her own hands. She sacrificed her independence for the well-being of her children. But many elderly individuals are like Harris and try to keep their independence intact by staying at home.

Deciding what to do when a parent is no longer able to care for him- or herself is a difficult decision that many families are faced with.

“People wait and wait, often at their own expense and health,” said Scott D. Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Program Center on Aging at the University of Utah.

There are numerous options to consider, but determining which option will work best for a family and an aged person is hard to agree upon. Many families try to take care of the parent, but there comes a point when they can no longer provide the care.

Utah families have been hit hard with this dilemma. “Utah is the fifth fastest growing state for an aging population,” Wright said.

Connie Carter can attest to this. Her family is currently faced with caring for two parents. She is Duncan’s daughter and Harris’ daughter-in-law.

The situation with Harris has brought many hardships. Harris still lives at home, but cannot be left alone for more than two hours at a time. Carter said caring for Harris is a lot of work and puts a strain on the family.

Despite this, Harris’ family wants to keep taking care of her at home due to financial reasons. Carter said they don’t think it’s necessary to put her in a care center when they can help her for a fraction of the cost.

According to pricing information on assistedlivingutah.com, the cost of elderly living facilities can cost upwards of $4,000 a month. To some, avoiding this hefty fee is worth the extra work that caring for a parent requires.

Carter’s mother, Phyllis Duncan, is paying for medical treatment and housing costs at Canyon Creek Assisted Living & Memory Care in Midvale, Utah. In order to pay for her care, Carter’s family was forced to sell her home. Proceeds from the sale are being used to pay her living expenses.

“This decision was easier than fighting over what to do and causing a rift between family members,” Carter said. In her experience, she has seen that most families that end up taking care of the elderly end up having hard feelings. Because of this she is relieved that her mother made the decision for them. Her family has been calm and peaceful about the situation.

Harris’ family is in control of her care and they are able to maintain her assets. However, these positive aspects come at the cost of her children’s personal health and well-being. On the other hand, Duncan is given 24-hour medical assistance and is able to live in an environment that satisfies her needs.

Determining what to do comes down to maintaining the highest levels of health and happiness for all the parties involved. The situation that works for one family may not work for another family.

Harris still seeks her independence by staying at home. She is happy and comfortable there, but her children worry about her deteriorating health. Carter hopes they can respect her wishes and continue taking care of her at home.

Duncan is now 97. Her memory loss is increasing, but she exhibits no signs of health problems. Her family is pleased to know she is well taken care of and she is content with her choice to move into an assisted living facility.