New accommodations help seniors in nursing homes live more independent lives

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- Close to 1.4 million Americans live in nursing facilities in this country.

Sharel Zelenka is one of them, but her experience is a bit different from most because she lives independently. She opted for an apartment on the grounds of an American Senior Community to be near her husband, who needed more intensive care.

Joe Zelenka had several heart surgeries and then suffered with dementia. Last year, Sharel realized she just couldn’t take care of him.

“As long as he could walk, I could take care of him, but it was a terrible decision when he couldn’t walk. I couldn’t do it, and it was really hard for me,” said Sharel.

She made the decision to sell her home and move into an apartment just steps away from her husband.

“I had to come here because this is where Joe was, and that was the whole purpose of selling the house- so i could be close to him,” she said.

The apartment Sharel chose features a full kitchen and hookups for a washer and dryer. Each apartment in her facility has its own balcony.

Joe passed away this past January, but Sharel has decided to stay put. Her schedule is full. She also takes the occasional tai chi class and visits friends. Her doctor says her health status has actually improved over the last few months.

Courtney Calhan, who is the marketing and leasing director for American Senior Communities, says independent seniors lead very active lives with support where and when they want it.

"I think that they’re looking for friendship and companionship,” said Calhan. “Not being isolated at home alone- doing different activities and engaging mentally and physically.”

Although costs vary from facility to facility, the national median monthly rate for a one bedroom unit in an assisted living facility is $3,500 dollars a month, according to the 2014 cost of care survey released in April by Genworth Financial Inc. of Richmond, Virginia.

There is a waiting list for studio apartments at American Senior Community facilities. All of the units include security, meals, laundry and housekeeping.

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