Senior living for an educated, liberal pescatarian?
December 5, 2021 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How do I find assisted/independent senior living options for a liberal, religious, vegetarian, educated, still mentally sharp but physically limited 84-year old woman that doesn't crush her beautiful old-hippie soul with classic rock, terrible food, and anti-intellectual culture?

I have an elderly relative who means everything to me, and who needs to live in an assisted living/independent senior living type of situation due to a medical condition that makes her a fall risk and limits her mobility (can't drive, limited walking ability).

This person is not your typical 84-year-old woman. Her mind is sharp. She is highly educated (ABD in history, then got an RN and spent a career as a nurse), deeply religious (Orthodox Christian) in a serious way, with extremely liberal and anti-racist politics, and a pescatarian (fish ok, but otherwise vegetarian). She reads the way most seniors in her current place seem to watch TV -- constantly and voraciously. She's interested in the world and the news. She likes classical music and wouldn't even know a Rolling Stones song if she heard it. She's multilingual. She is completely not materialistic and has simple physical needs, but is lonely (as well as badly fed) where she is, and would thrive if she were around some other similarly educated and liberal people. (She can get along with everyone, however -- she spent 20 years as a hospice nurse, dealing with all sorts of families in their time of grief, largely driven by religious mission.)

She currently lives in a semi-fancy assisted living community on Long Island, and it's a pure living hell. Their idea of "entertainment" is an awful classic rock karaoke singer, and 1980s movies no one watched when they came out the first time. The residents seem broadly "conservative," albeit not much politics is discussed (my relative loves to talk politics, again though she's a hardcore lefty). The food they provide is pathetic, she eats the same uninspired piece of salmon and overcooked vegetables every night. We pay a pretty substantial monthly rent for this place and it's a soul-crushing nightmare of poor services and a poor diet and a community of people she can't relate to.

I am hoping to find alternatives in Western Massachsuetts or upstate NY east and south of Albany. But the industry of assisted living is a giant scam-bucket of websites and middlemen that make learning anything about the community available in these places impossible to discern.

So it's a very specific question first: does anyone have a relative in a senior living situation in western Mass or upstate NY (or even the NYC area, although I despair of it) who is like my relative in their politics and lifestyle and who is relatively happy where they are, and with the people around them?

Failing that, does anyone have suggestions for how to hunt for such a place? I keep thinking an LGBTQ-friendly (seems like it might be a metric for diversity and liberalism) or vegetarian-aware facility *must* exist in these areas. Not all elders are Fox-watching Trumpers who like classic rock and bad movies and don't read books, right? Where do such people go to not be around Trumpers and bad karaoke and clueless kitchen staff?

Money, while not "no object," is not a major problem. Expensive and good would be ok. Right now we have expensive and awful.

Feel free to memail me with specific or personal suggestions you'd rather not post publicly. Thank you so much for reading this long question.
posted by spitbull to Human Relations (16 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You might check out Kendal programs. The one near me in Ithaca has a great reputation. They're (somehow, not sure how) Quaker affiliated but open to anyone.
posted by mareli at 6:14 AM on December 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I have several friends in Quaker-run assisted living communities. You might look into those. My closest friends in a quaker facility are in Ohio, so not near you, but they have a political letter writing group organized by the American Friends Service Committee, and an LGBTQ group where they are. My friends who are in these facilities are all Quaker themselves, and Quakers skew liberal and educated.
posted by Orlop at 6:16 AM on December 5, 2021

My Ohio friends are indeed in a Kendal facility.
posted by Orlop at 6:18 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Okay, I totally came in to suggest looking for something Quaker-affiliated, so let me add to the consensus. Best of luck, she sounds awesome, I hope you find somewhere that suits her.
posted by penguin pie at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a relative in Wake Robin, in Shelbourne, Vermont. Might fit your bill - check it out.
posted by entropone at 6:24 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

I don't know of any in that area, but there's a "boutique" senior home I've been to due to one of my jobs that feels basically like a luxury housing co-op that happens to have a nurse bustling around. It's really lovely and everyone there just seems utterly pleased with everything about it. Hopefully the language they use on the website might help you find something similar!
posted by teremala at 6:27 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for these quick and thoughtful suggestions. Already on it with the Quakers, she's basically a Quaker by nature. Amazing to learn this exists. Thank you thank you and please keep ideas coming!

And yes she is awesome. She only retired from hospice nursing four years ago because she just couldn't keep working despite it being her life's calling to help the dying. She deserves something better than she's got.
posted by spitbull at 6:30 AM on December 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

If cost is truely not an issue, the NY times has an article about luxury nursing homes and elder care recently that genuinely looked pretty awesome. The pricing is intimidating to me, but perhaps your elder has sufficient resources.
posted by larthegreat at 7:41 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Check out assisted living facilities in or near university towns. That's where professors with decent pensions go in late old age. Some facilities have vans that go to university events--concerts, galleries, lectures or host their own high-level programs. Several political activists are still organizing protests and live in these two facilities in Western MA. Check out their menus--plenty of vegan, pescatarian, vegetarian choices.

Amherst, MA (university town) Applewood

Easthampton, MA (quirky town where many artists and musicians live and not far from lefty Northampton and Amherst) Lathrop
posted by Elsie at 7:55 AM on December 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Another thought is to call local Unitarian Universalist congregations and ask them for suggestions - that’s where I’ve seen a lot of radical/progressive elders.
posted by matildaben at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also came to suggest Applewood and the Lathrop communities in Western Mass.
posted by ElizaMain at 9:58 AM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's much too far from all the places you mentioned, but Montgomery Place in Chicago is otherwise exactly what you're looking for. Calling them during the day and asking for more local suggestions might be worth a few minutes. I'm guessing they may know each other. (As a random chance, calling department staff at local universities and asking where their emeritus faculty retire might be worth a try.) Best wishes and thanks for helping.
posted by eotvos at 10:21 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a relative in Wake Robin, in Shelburne, Vermont. Might fit your bill - check it out.

Was also coming here to suggest Wake Robin. It's one of those places which has a vibrant and active senior community but also on-site options for people needing additional care, memory care, etc. I had a friend whose older-and-sharp grandmother was there, I visited a few times, was overall impressed with it. Similar vibe to the place in my town, Morgan Orchards, but I suspect it's too small to have the vibe she's looking for.
posted by jessamyn at 11:45 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Nuns are famously long lived and rather a lot of them are more liberal than their church - but convents are shutting down and can’t take care of their own locally, AIUI. So that’s another organization to look through; where are nuns retiring?
posted by clew at 11:51 AM on December 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Much of Long Island can be surprisingly conservative, especially among older residents.

My late great-aunt and uncle lived in one of the Watermark communities (which also operates one of the fancy NYC ones mentioned in the Times article linked above) in a deep blue area and it seemed like a fairly liberal and intellectual place. They were both very intellectual/cultured people and seemed to have found a group of like-minded people there. It was, however, very very expensive.
posted by redondo77 at 6:15 PM on December 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Someone I know who has a very similar profile to the person you're describing moved from Western Mass to Riverwoods in Durham, NH (they also have one in Exeter) just before the pandemic. She loves it. It has a long waitlist, and it may be too far for you, but thought it worth mentioning anyways. Lots of retired UNH folks and other academic types.
posted by mosst at 10:37 AM on December 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

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