Not that long ago, we had two choices as we grew older, retired and became less able to care for ourselves: live at home (our own or a family member’s) or move into a nursing home.

Today, Americans have a variety of progressive and attractive transition avenues for independent and assisted living. Greater Cincinnati is keeping up with the trends and setting some of its own.
The term “continuum of care” is more like “continuum of choices” in today’s residential marketplace for discerning seniors. Begin with condominiums, which may include attached or free-standing townhomes and increasingly popular one-level ranch designs. This has been a big growth business for Ameritek Custom Homes, among other Tristate builders.

There’s also “landominium” communities designed with empty nesters and retirees in mind. You own the house and land, and pay fees for maintenance—from lawn care to community recreational facilities such as swimming pools, clubhouses, tennis courts and walking trails. Dixon Builders, for example, now has more than 20 of these communities in Greater Cincinnati.

“We understand the dynamics of the population. People are moving from smaller as well as larger homes for a multitude of reasons,” says Terry Sojda, director of sales and marketing for Ameritek Custom Homes.

“With our villas and such, we cater to the ‘new’ lifestyles,” Sojda adds. “People are traveling, and the traditional larger home site no longer fits into their plans. We’realso cognizant that ‘no-step’ living is coming into play for many: one-story homes without compromising the need for a certain style of living.”

Note that these new lifestyles are not only about adapting to aging. Single-floor housing designs, for example, also appeal to people of all ages whose mobility is limited from illness or injuries. The same home that attracts a couple in their 80s who have had hip or knee replacements could appeal to a man in his 50s who suffered a stroke and has difficulty with stairs.

Another expanding transitional-living market are upscale apartment complexes that are indistinguishable from others on the outside, but offer key differences, beginning with emergency call systems that are monitored 24 hours daily. 

Sutton Grove in Mount Washington is an example of a renovated apartment complex, with mature trees, landscaped grounds, and a variety of amenities. Residents there also have the emergency call system and other extra security. Moreover, they can furnish their apartments however they choose, and their monthly rent includes weekly housekeeping services, nutritious meals and a variety of social activities. Sutton Grove has available extra assistance as needed to maintain their independence. Helping Hands Care Agency will provide anything from extra help with housekeeping chores to skilled nursing services.

For more than 25 years, Greater Cincinnatians have had some choices with all-in-one transitional living. A typical arrangement would be an apartment complex for independent but supported living, and a skilled nursing facility — yes, what we all referred to as “nursing homes — attached or situated nearby.

The Otterbein Retirement Living Communities began in Lebanon, Ohio, in 1912, on land purchased from the Shakers, and now has several communities around the state. Otterbein is progressing toward what it calls the “small house” communities, where residents will have individual cottage-like homes, clustered around common areas.

In Lebanon, Otterbein has about 850 residents: 530 in independent living residences, 45 in assisted living and 275 in what’s called “house care” with around-the-clock skilled nursing.

According to Christine Carruthers, director of independent living services, some Otterbein residents are more like those who consider landominiums. “People tend to think you need to have a problem to come here,” she explains. “But some just don’t want to have to worry about housing maintenance and security.”

One of the biggest market trends in retirement living is the demand for larger accommodations, according to Carruthers. People don’t want to have to downsize so much that they cannot entertain family or friends like they used to. Even retirees with health problems tend to be more active and mobile than was common in the past. They want to be close to shopping or a Starbucks, she says.

Otterbein’s Community Living features ranch homes, patio homes and apartments. Carruthers spots another trend: Those residents want to stay much longer in these independent environments, well beyond the point where people might have moved to the skilled nursing facilities.
The new trends are not just about floor plans, security systems or social activity planners. Carruthers says there has been a major management shift toward listening to what people want and making it happen, rather than dictating choices and schedules.

“We’re re-thinking a lot of what we do,” she says. “The newer crowd is willing to pay for quality. They’re much more vocal. They know how to get what they want and they’re not willing to settle for less.”

These changes in client service can be as simple as listening to assisted-living residents who want to sleep in without fretting about missing breakfast, Carruthers says. Some of those Otterbein residents may instead have a little cereal whenever they get up, and still enjoy a hot breakfast later in the morning.

Helping make that possible is the “Whole Person Wellness Model” at Otterbein, which encourages and supports residents in nurturing six areas of wellness: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual and vocational.

The wellness philosophy connects to more sensitivity about individual dignity, too. Take, for instance, a man with hand tremors who has trouble getting his fork to his mouth. “Now, instead of feeding him, we would take his hand and help him feed himself,” Carruthers notes.

Hillandale Communities is another local trendsetter in retirement living. The Dixon family, which has owned and operated the business for 45 years, has built all kinds of communities covering the transitional living spectrum in the Tristate area.
Chesterwood Village in West Chester has two-bedroom cottages with attached garages and enclosed sun porches, along with upscale apartment suites at Bethany Place. Chesterwood has a small lake, walking paths and large, well-equipped clubhouse. The recently opened Chelsea Place offers specialized assisted living for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Hillandale will raise the retirement-living bar quite a few notches higher with the Main Street addition to Chesterwood, which is essentially the creation of a small town. It will have a movie theater, sports café, wellness center and a bank. More housing will be added with a three-story building offering 100 independent and assisted-living apartments.

“It’s like having your own cultural and recreational center,” says Sally Derrick, marketing director. “The residents don’t have to go out and battle the elements, and visitors don’t have to drive them somewhere else to have fun for a day.”