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Creating Community Spaces for Residents of Assisted Living Facilities

by Joe Carella, Successful Aging Expert
July 21, 2016

Question: How can assisted living facilities organically allow residents access to a larger community?

Answer: The purpose of a good assisted living facility should be to create places for the community to gather. A unique assisted living facility like the Scandinavian Living Center shares its space with several other organizations, all of which are designed to break down institutional walls and draw in the larger community of neighbors and friends. When we built the SLC, we created a space that is 50% common area, which is unheard of for a stand-alone assisted living setting.

Perhaps the biggest initiative is the Scandinavian Cultural Center, which is housed in the SLC’s building and utilizes the Nordic Hall for its events. The Scandinavian Cultural Center puts on events from book readings to art shows, food festivals to plays – all of which are open to the public and free to SLC residents. The result is the opportunity for the community at large and our residents to come together on topics or events in which they are interested.  This isn’t a forced interaction; it’s an organic and natural way of meeting people with common interests.

We also provide community meeting space. For example, a card-playing group from our town’s recreation department needed a place to play; we provided it. But here, we learned an important lesson. While the administrators at the SLC thought this would be an easy match – lots of our residents like to play cards – the residents didn’t feel comfortable going into the group. Eventually, we solved the issue by creating an SLC card-playing group that met at the same time and in the same area space, and over time the two groups naturally integrated. These are natural, unforced opportunities that often occur in a community, but when we move to elder care, we often forget how important they are.

The SLC also has a Saturday café called the Kaffestugan that’s open to the public and provides a great chance for everyone to sit and chat over coffee. We have a physical therapist with a public practice and even a gym that is used by both the community and our residents. That’s why we have 2,000 people or more every month coming into the SLC for reasons that have nothing to do with the residents here, providing increased opportunities to break down institutional walls and barriers.

Joe Carella, is executive director of the nonprofit Scandinavian Living Center, a unique assisted living residence and the author of Unlimited Options for Aging: Commonsense Answers from Scandinavia.

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