Finding Meaningful Alternatives to Traditional Senior Care Centers


by Bob Kohut

For many seniors, a community bingo game three times a week does little, if anything, to provide the essential ingredient they need – meaning.  The career is over; the children are raised; the trips have been taken; the books have been read; now what?  What’s next?  What reason do seniors have to get out of bed every morning?

For those of you who have already had the experience of searching for a Senior Care Center where your aging loved ones can live out their days, you know most follow a “cookie cutter” or “one size fits all” model.  They all have scheduled trips to local shopping sites, church services, and entertainment venues.  They all have common rooms for sitting and relaxing.  They all have bingo games, sing-a-longs, and other in-house activities.  They all have communal meals, frequently required.

In the words of the old Peggy Lee hit song: Is That All There Is?

With few exceptions, traditional Senior Care Centers expect their residents to conform to the model they provide.  They do little to create a model where the individual, not the institution, determines how residents live.  This is especially true for seniors for whom spirituality is important.  Church services once a week are insufficient.

The institutionalized focus of a traditional center typically offers activities geared toward the largest common denominator.  Hence, you find your bingo games and sing-a-longs, but no meditation moments or other individualized spiritual activities of any kind.

There is hope for those of you looking for alternatives for your loved ones.  Contemporary thinking about an ideal model for senior care is evolving, albeit slowly, away from an institutionalized focus towards an individualized orientation.

As an example of this shift, visit the following link:

If you read through the plans for this center you can see they are anything but traditional.  In fact, they are deeply spiritual in nature.  Originally conceived as a senior care center for retiring Zen Monks, there appears to be enough interest in the concept to expand its target population to include the general public.  For the non-Buddhists among you, there are alternative centers appearing reflecting other spiritual philosophies as well.

A somewhat more mainstream, but similar, development is occurring in the Midwest where the Sisters of St Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates contracted with Presbyterian Homes & Services to build a retirement village for nuns.  As is the case with the San Francisco Zen Center, the village will now be open to the general public.

The Minnesota based Presbyterian Homes & Services provides one of the best descriptions of alternative models of senior care available anywhere in the country.  Judge for yourself by visiting their website at:

Spend some time studying their approach and you will quickly see it is holistic in nature – incorporating the health not only of the body, but also of the mind and the spirit.

Read their LiveWell programs, and pay particular attention to the section on Liberty Personally Designed Living section.  This individualized approach may be the wave of the future for senior care; a change from concern for the mind and the spirit as well as the body.

The two centers we have highlighted are located on the West Coast and Midwest, but centers with similar philosophies are beginning to emerge in other areas of the country.  While it may be difficult to find one in your local area, the search will be worth it.  At the very least, understanding these alternatives will provide you with a model of senior care against which you can compare different senior centers available to you.  Good luck in your search!


3 Responses

  1. Really good points here about finding meaning and not just something to do. The community designed for retired Buddhist monks sounds like a great place!
  2. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by steve Joyce and Dr. Marion Somers, Laurel Kennedy. Laurel Kennedy said: Finding Meaningful Alternatives to Traditional Senior Care Centers [...]
  3. I am so glad I found and read this article. It gives me hope for my one remaining living parent and for myself as I enter into my senior phase of life. My father who recently passed away was so afraid of going into a traditional senior home that he passed away just as we (my brother and I) were making arrangements. To know that a new version of senior homes and care is emerging is very encouraging.
  4. Another alternative that has been around for some time is Eden Alternative . I don't know if they have the spiritual component that your article mentions, but they have implemented a lot of alternatives for elder care. Spirituality is one aspect that has been ignored in these hard times, but needs to be addressed. Thank you.

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