When families search for the right new home in which to relocate their elderly loved ones, the usual considerations are top-of-mind. They want a caring staff, skilled medical support and comfortable living accommodations. But there is something else—arguably just as important—that they might not immediately think of: how a retirement community helps children and grandchildren stay actively involved with their elderly family member. We asked local retirement homes how they ensure that loved ones remain a regular part of residents’ lives.

Lutheran Senior Services

Linda Detring, chief operating officer, says a welcoming environment is key. “The more it looks and feels like home, the more families will feel comfortable,” she says. At Lutheran Senior Services, that means carpeting on the floors, pictures on the walls, rooms that open onto a central living room rather than a hallway and even a fully equipped kitchen where at least one meal is prepared each day. “When the families come in and they smell bread baking or a roast cooking, that’s very inviting,” she says.

In the summer, residents and their family members can work together in gardens outside the homes. “To go out and help your dad plant three tomato plants, something you may have done as a kid, that creates a level of comfort,” she explains. “We try to offer situations where the families and the resident can do things like they did 50 years ago; that brings back all those nice feelings.”

One of the things that worries older adults, says Detring, is that they will be forgotten and ‘left out.’ “But by the family coming in to visit, that gives them the reassurance that they are still a vital part of the family fabric.”

The Hallmark of Creve Coeur

Lifestyles director Bob Row agrees that a homey atmosphere is critical. “I try to make this the home of my residents,” he says. To that end, Row says, he encourages family members to bring their talents and interests to The Hallmark. For example, he cites a yoga instructor, the daughter of a resident who has since passed away, who continues to teach there. “She’s become family to everyone here,” Row says. Another resident’s daughter, he adds, is a movie historian who comes in regularly to screen classic films and give lectures.

Row’s best tip for families who want to stay involved is to find out what their loved one will be doing. “Ask for the calendar of events, so you can call Mom and say, ‘I know there’s a party going on, and I’d like to join you,’” he advises. “Ask for e-mails about special events. Offer to participate as a volunteer. Bring friends of your parent and throw parties. Don’t be afraid to use the facility as your home, too.”

The Gatesworth

Staying involved with a monthly calendar of activities is also important for families at The Gatesworth, says executive director Martha Kessel. A highlight of that calendar is the ‘Visionary Speakers Series,’ which brings in local leaders like the director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. There are also lectures on financial topics, such as investments and Medicare laws, as well as medical presentations by physicians from local institutions.

On the lighter side, the Gatesworth hosts Halloween parties, Easter egg hunts and breakfasts with Santa—a tradition so beloved that grandchildren keep coming back long past childhood, according to resident services director Kathy Davis.

The Quarters at Des Peres

Although The Quarters won’t open until February, marketing director Lori Ostapowicz says there are plenty of family-friendly activities already in the works for the skilled nursing home, which will specialize in seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive issues. Planned activities include monthly guest lecturers from the Alzheimer’s Association, live entertainment, casino nights and professional speakers on such topics as coping measures, financial guidance and medical issues.

“Even people with dementia still tend to recognize their children and their grandchildren,” Ostapowicz says. “The more they can see their family and enjoy an activity, the better their day is.”

The Willows at Brooking Park

As part of its expansion, The Willows has added an arts and entertainment venue called ‘Centerstage,’ which includes a 130-seat theater and community space, art gallery, studio, sculpture garden, restaurant and game rooms. “Centerstage is the heart of the community at The Willows,” says Rob Adams, vice president of SB&A, the marketing firm that represents The Willows and Brooking Park. “We have the opportunity to do events that families can come to, too.” Those include performances by local musicians and wine and cheese receptions for featured artists in the gallery. The residents have even held their own art show.

More informally, Adams says, families who visit The Willows can also take advantage of amenities such as wellness and fitness training, and for the grandchildren, the pool is always a favorite.