Soon (Maybe) at a Nursing Home near You Elder-Care Providers Offering Clients Theater-Style Common Rooms, Spa-Like Experiences

Article excerpt

Byline: Madhu Krishnamurthy

Dorothy Scott of Wauconda loved driving cars and eating at restaurants when she was younger.

It's something the 75-year-old had to give up once her health deteriorated and she moved into a long-term nursing home.

But now, Scott experiences those pleasures again through a racecar-driving video game and buffet dining at Wauconda HealthCare & Rehabilitation Centre.

"I really enjoyed it," an excited Scott said after trying the video game and dining with friends. "I don't feel like it's a nursing home. I feel like I went out to eat a buffet."

Increasingly, suburban elder-care providers are adding activities, such as interactive games, happy hour, breakfast clubs and gardening, converting traditional cafeterias into dining rooms, turning bathing into a spa experience and introducing household comforts to a sterile medical environment.

The Lutheran Home in Arlington Heights, Elmhurst Extended Care Center, Paradise Park Assisted Living and Memory Care in Fox Lake and the Wealshire in Lincolnshire are among those with such changes in place.

Experts say it signals a growing trend to offer residents more choices and fewer restrictions. While part of the aim is to stay competitive in a growing senior services market, the larger goal is a healthier psychological and social environment for seniors.

The concept is part of the Pioneer Movement, which advocates changing conventional notions of nursing homes as a place for the dying.

Lake County is a leader in the movement because some groups adopted the Pioneer philosophy and put it in practice years ago. Advocates in suburban Cook County now are making a similar push.

"I think eventually it's going to catch on," said Robyn O'Neill, the state's regional long-term care ombudsman representing suburban Cook and Lake counties. "The hope is that it should dramatically change elder care. It certainly is a growing movement, but it takes a long time because people have to rethink (traditional ways)."

Providers are trying to shift focus of care from disability and infirmity to promoting wellness and independence.

It means giving residents what they want rather than what administrators think they need, said Sharon Roberts, a Lake County Health Department gerontologist who heads Lake County's Regional Pioneer Coalition.

"It's a whole different feeling and a whole different approach," said Roberts, who talks to caregiver groups about the movement. "The elder stays in charge of their care. If you haven't been in a nursing home for a while, or you've been to one that's traditional, you won't know that these things are going on."

A culture change

The Pioneer Movement informally began in 1997 when 33 health care professionals, researchers and educators from throughout the country met for three days in Rochester, N.Y., to share their isolated efforts to modernize elder care.

It has grown into the National Pioneer Network, which brings together a variety of innovative elder care concepts under its umbrella. The coalition's recent national conference in Minnesota drew 1,100 elder-care providers from 46 states, England and Canada.

"The entry point was nursing homes, but then we realized what we were looking at here was beyond nursing home care," said Rose Marie Fagan, the coalition's founding executive director. "It's about changing the culture of what it means to be an older person in America and revolutionizing aging."

Fagan estimates roughly 1 percent - fewer than 200 - of the 16,000 nursing homes nationwide follow the Pioneer philosophy. …