Courtesy Edgewood Vista - Hermantown
Residents at Edgewood Vista in Hermantown, Minnesota, enjoy gardening, among other activities.
Home, family and beautiful surroundings – it’s not hard to come up with the reasons that people choose to remain or decide to come to Lake Superior to retire.
What might be less evident are the available options for home and health as we grow older by the Lake.
It’s important to remember that growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing isolated or separated from community. In fact, elders often take lead roles regionally, especially in a place like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where a sense of community is a strong draw for retiring residents, says Dr. Patricia Cianciolo, professor of social work at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
“People go above and beyond just the usual commitments to serve in their community. It’s not uncommon that when people retire, they move into city and county leadership positions. People really feel that they want to give back in this area.”
Many people remain here after a lifetime near Lake Superior. Others who have visited here over the years want to live here after retirement.
“They come here for the outdoors and beauty of Lake Superior and its recreational opportunities,” Patricia says.
Challenges arise as health and physical restrictions reduce people’s ability to get out or sometimes even to stay in their own homes. But Lake-region communities have programs and housing options that help to meet those challenges.
One challenge of aging in our long-distance culture is when driving becomes difficult. That need not hamper daily living in areas with public transportation, sometimes even in more rural areas.
Dr. Trevor Bon, geriatrician at St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay, says that most people will live longer than their ability to drive safely. Men generally live six to seven years beyond driving ability and women generally live eight to nine years after they must stop driving. “It’s important to plan. You’re likely going to need some form of transit.”
In Duluth, Thunder Bay and Marquette, there is regular bus service.
Several rural areas are served by dial-a-ride services, such as with Eastern Upper Peninsula Transportation Authority that covers Chippewa and Luce Counties and has discounts for senior citizens.
MarqTran, the Marquette County Transit Authority, has daily loops around Marquette that include stops at senior centers and weekly loops to outlying towns. It offers senior discounts.
The Duluth Transit Authority even developed an outreach program, “Bus Riding 101,” that’s usually presented at senior centers or assisted living housing.
Many of those at the presentations haven’t been on a bus in years, says DTA marketing director Tom Elwell. “They remember riding the trolley cars, but they haven’t been on a bus for awhile. … They would go to church on a nickel.”
Prices for today’s ride do exceed a nickel. They range from $2.50 to $1.50 on regular routes. Duluth has an off-peak riding discount of 75 cents and all regular buses offer discounted passes for multiple rides. Many offer senior discounts.
While most grocery stores no longer offer delivery service, there are some for-pay and volunteer options for getting food brought to your home. Many communities offer the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers one hot meal a day for a small fee (or may be free for those who qualify). Some areas have private delivery services, but be sure to ask for references and check with your local senior services to get reputable help. Most communities have agencies that help link senior citizens to in-home services.
In Ontario, the Aging at Home Strategy was started in 2007 to strengthen community support services like Meals on Wheels, transportation and falls-prevention education.
St. Joseph’s Hospital in Thunder Bay has tapped into that four-year program. It also has developed a care group to support the aging-at-home philosophy with Community Geriatric Outreach Teams.
Through the outreach program, clients receive home visits from a geriatric nurse practitioner, who conducts physical examinations and works in concert with the family physician. They can also review the living environment, says Gail O’Quinn, manager for Specialized Seniors Programs at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
“The nurse practitioner can learn a lot by being in the home,” Gail says.
“If the nurse practitioner looks in the refrigerator and finds just a quart of milk and a few spoiled items, they know nutrition isn’t great.”
They can then match their clients to the proper services to assure a person is in a healthy living situation.
For some, the right decision may be a move out of their home into a situation geared toward senior citizens who may need some assistance, but not at the level of nursing home care. These more communal living arrangements often have the added benefit of easy access to social interaction, which can be lacking.
The variety of such living arrangements is large and depends on your needs and desires.
Independent living residences feature homes, condominiums or apartments focused on older people who might need some minor assistance options, such as housekeeping.
A congregate-care facility combines private living quarters with shared dining and living spaces plus social and recreational activities.
Assisted living offers private or shared living quarters and increased daily services, including distribution of medication, bathing, dressing, etc.
All of these options can be found around the Lake region, with larger cities offering more services.
Jan Benson, a resident life specialist with Northern Lights Services Inc. in Washburn, Wisconsin, says that for independent seniors who need some assistance, there are many resident options around the Bayfield Peninsula, especially for those in a lower-income bracket.
Jan says that she gets questions from people who have lived all their life in the area and from younger residents bringing their parents north to be closer to them.
The main question is “What level of care is needed?” she says. Some might live in their own home if 24-hour supervision was available, but that option is rare. “I have heard of it, once or twice, but often times the cost is just prohibitive.”
In Calumet, Michigan, residents in the 21 suites at Northridge Pines Assisted Living prefer remaining in the Keweenaw Peninsula to a larger city.
“They’ve grown up here or they’ve worked outside and they’ve come back,” says Lori Bohlsen, administrative assistant at Northridge. “It’s a family feeling here.”
In Washburn at Oaks Memory Care Assisted Living Community, 16 private apartments are designed for those with memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. The residence is arranged to allow maximum independence while providing a secure environment.
Sometimes, one operation offers multiple options. Edgewood Vista in Hermantown, Minnesota, has four: independent living, assisted living, advanced and memory care.
At Edgewood, assisted living apartments tailor services to each resident and can include 24-hour access to a registered nurse, medication management, blood-pressure monitoring and help with dressing and bathing. There’s regular housekeeping and laundry service.
“With assisted living and independent living, residents live in kitchen-equipped apartments. They all have private apartments, though meals are available in a common dining room,” says Administrator Ann Beck.
In Edgewood’s independent living apartments, residents have access to a nurse consultant and help with medications. They also can switch to more supported care temporarily, such as after cataract surgery.
“As needs grow,” says Ann, “we can assess that.”
Residence options are expanding, says Gene Jordan, executive director of Northern Lights Services Inc. in Washburn, but outpatient therapies and home health services are increasing faster. “Home- and community-based services are clearly the ones that are growing.”
Good to Know
These groups can help you find local services and options.
Upper Peninsula Commission for Area Progress, 906-786-4701, www.upcap.org
Marquette County Commission on Aging, 906-485-1742, www.co.marquette.mi.us (search “aging services”)
Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging, 218-722-5545, www.arrowheadaging.org
Elder Services Network (Iron Range), 218-741-0415, www.elder-services.net
Bayfield County Aging and Disability Services, 715-373-6144. www.bayfieldcounty.org/aging-disability.asp
Douglas County Aging and Disability Resource Center, 715-395-1234, www.douglascountywi.org
Thunder Bay 55 Plus Centre, 807-684-3066, www.thunderbay.ca/Living (search “55 Plus”)
Senior Services Sault Ste Marie, 705-759-5441, city.sault-ste-marie.on.ca (search “senior services”)
Felicia Schneiderhan, a freelance writer in Duluth, is a frequent contributor to this magazine.