Photo: Silver Lakes Senior Living resident Annie Johnson poses for a photo during the facility’s fall celebration. (Courtesy of Silver Lakes Senior Living)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
Silver Lakes Senior Living has remodeled its facility and restructured its programs since coming under new management in April. Now managed by Cavalier Senior Living, which is based in Montgomery, it aims to serve its residents at the best standards.
“They did a restructure from the ground up,” said Silver Lakes Executive Director Wilma Yopp. “All employees are educated very thoroughly so that they can relate to our senior living residents. [Other changes included] remodeling the building. It has fresh paint, new floors [and we] have added new equipment as needed.”
Yopp explained that the facility now offers three distinct programs: assisted living, memory care and independent living.
Though independent living is the least involved of the programs, providing seniors with less direct care, it still offers amenities like weekly housekeeping, laundry and trash service and access to meals, snacks and activities.
“It’s like living in an apartment in town,” Yopp said. “They’re completely independent, but by living here, they get all three meals. They can also participate with the activities.”
Independent residents are free to come and go as they please, Yopp explained, able to visit family or run errands with their own vehicles, but they are welcome in group activities.
According to Yopp, only one resident is currently enrolled in the independent living program, meaning the vast majority of residents are split between assisted living and memory care.
The Alabama Department of Public Health defines an assisted living resident as “any individual in need of assistance with activities of daily living that receives residence, health supervision, or personal care.” Silver Lakes residents also receive three meals a day with snacks provided in between and facility-wide activities that exercise the body and brain.
One example of these activities, which are facilitated by Activities Director Lindsey Fuller, is the daily “sit-and-fit” exercise class. Though standing is still an option, residents unable to stand can complete the entire exercise routine from a sitting position.
There are a few requirements residents and potential residents must meet to continue or begin assisted living.
According to Alabama Public Health, assisted living residents, while unable to function independently, should be able to manage their own medications and medical care. Residents are expected to have “sufficient cognitive ability to direct” staff to provide medical care or physical assistance with medication in order to overcome physical handicaps.
Yopp explained that administrators also look for “being mobile in some way,” whether by wheelchair, walker or walking independently.
Those who cannot meet these qualifications are considered for specialty care, which requires a separate license. Silver Lakes is certified under the Alabama Department of Public Health as both an assisted living facility and a specialty care assisted living facility, its memory care program falling under the latter.
“In memory care, they do not have to recognize their meds,” Yopp said. “We do have an RN that’s over the whole unit and does the assessments and all, and then we have the nurses that assist with the meds for memory care.”
Specialty care requires more training and expertise for staff.
“[In] our memory care program, we get a life story for each resident and create connections with them so that we are able to relate to them on their experience,” Yopp said.
She said sometimes, memory care residents with dementia or similar conditions seem to “live in the past.” Yopp explained that this is why understanding each resident’s life story is important — connecting with their memories is paramount to caring for them, to meeting them where they are.
“Listening is huge — listening to the residents, listening to the families and sponsors, listening to the staff — because they’re telling you so much, and then you can better relate to them,” Yopp said.
Yopp praised her staff for consistently coming into work happy and enthusiastic, bringing that energy to the residents they serve.
“If you have happy staff, you have happy residents,” she said.
According to Yopp, staff help “set the tone with environment,” which also includes the cleanliness of the facility, the lighting and other factors.
Yopp began working at Silver Lakes Senior Living on October 31, 2022, but she has worked in senior care for 20 years.
“When I first started assisted living in 2002, I thought it was about providing their needs of food and medicine,” Yopp said. “Quickly did I learn that it is also social.”
Participating in activities affords the residents social interactions with staff and with each other. Some are designed with social needs in mind, but for many activities, socializing is a natural consequence of simply gathering together.
“We do our activities based on social needs, intellectual needs, spiritual needs, emotional needs and physical needs,” Yopp explained.
Cavalier Senior Living researches activities according to these five needs, which Fuller then adapts to the specific needs of the Silver Lakes seniors.
According to Yopp, they celebrate residents’ birthdays each month and decorate the facility according to the seasons, which helps residents be cognizant of the time of year. Staff birthdays are celebrated too, even if residents aren’t allowed to give them gifts.
“I’m only in my third week, and on my first day, an assisted living resident came up to me,” Yopp said. “Her name is Mrs. Zoe, and she said, ‘I keep up with everybody’s birthdays, residents and staff.’ I kind of tried to get out of it, but that wasn’t happening. So my birthday was November 9. I had not been here but four or five days, and they were showering me with cards and singing happy birthday.”
Residents and staff alike, she said, have become a family.
“What makes up an assisted living (facility) is the residents first and staff that want to serve, because it’s not like any other job,” Yopp said. “The main thing that I see is that people come together to be a family in assisted living from different walks of life, from different experiences, different ages. It’s diversity, but it all comes together beautifully with the common ground that we’re at this assisted living — and here at Silver Lakes. I mean, it changed my life.”