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Making the Move

Choosing an independent senior living community can be a daunting task. There are numerous elder care facilities in the (585) region, each with its own unique features. For independent and active seniors, opportunities such as on-campus programming, group activities, and other social aspects may be the most important factor. While other key aspects such as financial eligibility and the reputation of a facility are equally important, here are four more factors to consider before making a move.

1. Toss aside misconceptions

First things first, independent living is not a nursing home. Individuals in senior living communities live on their own (or with a spouse), just as they would in their own home. Some amenities and services such as meals, housekeeping, or transportation to medical appointments or shopping make their lives easier, but for the most part they are living in the same way they lived before the move.

“Over the past thirty–forty years, there have been many more options in senior living, especially independent living,” says Ann Julien, Director of Sales and Marketing at the Highlands of Pittsford. “Unless they know someone who has lived in an independent community, people still think of an old idea of a nursing home.”

The independent living options at Highlands of Pittsford include two-bedroom patio homes known as “The Cottages,” or spacious one- and two-bedroom apartments. Move-in coordinators work with residents to pick out paint colors and carpeting, measure furniture, and provide personalized floor plans.

“The biggest competition is someone’s home,” says Julien. “There are so many memories associated with someone’s home, and it can be overwhelming to make a move. However, change can be freeing. You can start a new chapter, and you don’t have to worry about as many things as you did with your home.”

At Ferris Hills at West Lake in Canandaigua (an affiliate of UR Medicine Thompson Health), independent living is all about choices. “You can live your own life on your own terms,” says Aimee Ward, executive director at Ferris Hills and its assisted living facility, Clark Meadows. “You have a variety of floor plans to choose from when it comes to your apartment. You can drive your own car and keep it in our heated, underground parking garage, or you can take advantage of our transportation options.”

2. Downsize smartly

Before selling your home, follow these tips to downsize smartly. One of the most common mistakes that people make when downsizing is throwing away documents that may impact their ability to receive Medicaid, a federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with limited income and resources.

Lisa Powers, senior attorney focusing on elder law at Harris Beach PLLC recommends keeping five years’ worth of necessary documents, which may include bank statements, retirement plan documents, tax returns plus attachments (going seven years back), life insurance plans, insurance cards, annuities, and more. “If there is an account with your Social Security number on it, you need those documents.” 

Furthermore, now is the time to update your will and ensure that beneficiary designations are updated. Making large financial gifts of more than $15,000 in a calendar year could also impact your ability to receive Medicaid in the event of a crisis.

“Before you start the process of moving, take the time to make sure your finances are in order,” says Powers. “Talk to a planning attorney like an elder law attorney to make sure your planning is up to date and that you have the proper people named to manage your finances if you lose capacity to make medical decisions down the road.”

Finally, Powers recommends finding a geriatric care manager through a service like Eldersource through Lifespan or Greater Rochester Area Partnership for the Elderly (GRAPE) to help develop a long-term care plan. “Meet with an independent geriatric care manager to establish a baseline assessment,” says Powers. “Having this relationship will help you if you have to step up from independent living into assisted living or have another medical crisis.” While many senior living communities may have a geriatric care manager on-site, establishing a relationship with an independent provider means that you continue to have a care plan whether you remain at that community or not. An independent care manager may also be able to recommend the best senior living community based on your health history and needs.

3. Consider your needs 

Not all senior living communities are created equal. Before making a move, consider your needs. For example, what happens if you need to move from independent to assisted or skilled living? The Highlands at Pittsford and Jewish Senior Life offer a continuum of care, where residents can progress through the various levels of care on one campus. This can be particularly beneficial for couples. When one spouse may need to move to assisted living, the other spouse can remain close in independent living.

“It’s all on one campus,” says Susan Bussey, senior vice president of housing for Jewish Senior Life. “If one spouse needs more care, the well resident can remain in their apartment and the spouse can go to assisted or skilled living, and they can visit as often as they want. We also offer short-term rehab programs.”

Furthermore, programming is important to many residents in senior living communities. Since COVID, many programs have continued in a virtual format. The Highlands at Pittsford stands unique for its affiliation with the University of Rochester, which offers residents courses taught by college professors in a variety of subject areas. Independent living residents at Jewish Senior Life enjoy resident-led programs such as painting club, Yiddish club, astronomy club, card games, and more. Through an affiliation with the Jewish Community Center, residents can also take fitness classes taught by JCC instructors. “It’s a very social community,” says Bussey. “Residents are looking for companionship as well as access to more care if they need it.”

4. Visit

While COVID-19 has impacted many of the ways that senior living communities operate, these communities have found ways to keep residents and their families connected through virtual or social distancing opportunities. “We’ve still had people moving in,” says Julien at the Highlands of Pittsford. “People don’t want to be isolated in their own homes.” If you can’t physically visit the campus, ask for a virtual tour and an opportunity to speak to a current resident. As of January 2021, COVID-19 vaccines started to be administered at both Highlands of Pittsford and Jewish Senior Life, and both residents and staff are eager to return to vibrant, social communities.

“We had seventy residents on our last Zoom meeting,” says Julien. “We are being creative to keep everyone connected, but they are eager to get back to what they love.”

Michelle Shippers is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Rochester-area senior communities:

Ferris Hills
1 Ferris Hills, Canandaigua

The Highlands at Pittsford
100 Hahnemann Trail Apt. 1, Pittsford

Jewish Senior Life
2021 S. Winton Rd., Rochester

The Legends at Whitney Center
100 Clear Spring Trail, Fairport

The Maplewood

100 Daniel Dr., Webster


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