When Toby Hodes prepared to move into the Edgewood Life Care Community in North Andover, she figured it was a practical choice with trade-offs. “I was very active in my temple and the community. I wanted to continue to have my independent life, but where my kids wouldn’t have to worry about me,” explained Hodes, 85, a widow who raised her family in Andover. “But I didn’t think that at my age I could make new close friends. And yet I have.”
Four years ago, Hodes moved into an apartment at Edgewood, a full-service retirement community where 15 percent of the residents are Jewish. She quickly found her social stride anew – chairing Edgewood’s lifelong learning committee, inviting guest speakers and organizing a book group. Hiking trails through the adjoining conservation land “have been my saving grace during COVID,” Hodes said.
When her adult children visit for Jewish holidays, the family celebrates in a private dining room with their own recipes prepared by Edgewood cooks. “I feel this is a gift I’ve given to my kids by living here, and to myself as well,” Hodes said.
Boston-area Jewish families like the Hodeses are fortunate to have myriad choices for full-service senior living. To find the best option, it’s helpful to understand the language of retirement communities, many of which offer multiple lifestyles under a single roof.
Full-service communities offer more extensive infrastructure than traditional 55+ age-restricted condominiums, where residents might share a clubhouse and a shuttle bus, but little more. Options may include independent living in a private apartment with access to medical, social and recreational services. Assisted living adds non-medical help with daily activities like meals, personal care and medication management.
At communal dining halls, menus have evolved along with American palates, with organic and farm-to-table selections. Facilities and programming aim to keep seniors active – everything from tai chi and painting to lectures and trips to restaurants, shows and museums.
Many communities also include memory care (comprehensive programming for dementia sufferers) or skilled nursing and rehabilitation units. Short-term stays are often available to those considering a permanent move, or caregivers in need of respite. Some residences even welcome pets.
“When people live in community, they live longer and they live healthier,” affirmed Allison Hausman, a spokesperson for 2Life Communities, a Jewish-affiliated operator of six Boston-area residences. She noted that while 2Life’s median age is over 80, few residents transition to nursing homes: “They’re stimulated. They share exercise programs, concerts, lectures.”
2Life’s independent living communities, available to those 62 and older, are popular for their Jewish programming and amenities. Newton’s Golda Meir House has a kosher kitchen; the Brown Family House is across the street from both the Brookline Senior Center and Congregation Kehillath Israel. Coleman House shares its Newton campus with the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston, and the newest 2Life community, Opus, is set to open at the JCC as well.
Beyond Jewish resources, 2Life also stands out for its range of pricing – a mix of market-rate, government-subsidized lower income and, at Opus, middle-income units. Such options are rare in the world of full-service retirement, a mix of for- and not-for-profit facilities where monthly fees typically range from $4,000 to upwards of $10,000 a month, depending on residence type and (most significantly) degree of care. Many communities also require an upfront, six-figure buy-in fee; this is often 80-90 percent refundable when residency ends.
Unsurprisingly, 2Life’s low cost housing is in high demand. “Get on that waitlist now if you’re interested,” Hausman advises families. “It’s possible you may qualify for a subsidized community. Whatever your income, it’s worth looking into.”
Across retirement homes, utilities including TV and internet are typically bundled in the monthly service fee, along with housekeeping, security and other basics. Some communities, like Brooksby Village by Erickson Senior Living in Peabody, maintain a fund for residents who are unable to pay the monthly fees.
And while some families wait until independence is no longer feasible, others, like Hodes, opt in earlier. “As people age at home and many activities become difficult, they often start to lose little pieces of themselves,” said Ted Doyle, vice president of Marketing and Communications for LCB Senior Living, which manages 34 senior living communities throughout the Northeast. With assistance, “you can be yourself again. That’s the magic of assisted living when it’s done right.”
The typical LCB community has around 85 apartments – a mix of independent and assisted living and memory care, with weekly Shabbat services and other Jewish programming. LCB’s are the only Boston-area lifecare centers to partner with REACT Neuro, a brain health company that regularly assesses residents’ mental fitness – “like a blood pressure cuff for your brain,” as Doyle put it, noting that REACT doctors have worked with the Patriots.
Hebrew SeniorLife, a nonprofit organization, also boasts a medical pedigree: It is the only senior care organization affiliated with Harvard Medical School. Residents have access to Harvard geriatric specialists and on-site lab, pharmacy, and radiology services.
The original facility, Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, was founded over 100 years ago. Hebrew SeniorLife now has six senior living communities in Greater Boston, including Orchard Cove in Canton, where 96 percent of the roughly 300 residents are Jewish. Independent and assisted living residents will find an in-house rabbi, a daily minyan, groups for Torah study and Yiddish conversation, kosher style dining – and skilled nursing care, should they eventually need it.
Many seniors are also loathe to give up downtown conveniences – and for them, an urbanist community like The Baldwin in Londonderry, New Hampshire may be a good fit. Due to open this spring, The Baldwin connects residences to on- and off-site amenities via enclosed pedestrian bridges. “You walk right out of your retirement community to a restaurant, a store, a salon or the movies,” explained spokesperson Kathleen D’Amico. In addition to 190 independent living apartments, The Baldwin will also have 50 assisted-living residences and memory support.
Gardening is something seniors don’t have to give up at Goddard House in Brookline, a 173-year-old nonprofit with 75 assisted living and 40 memory care units. Residents tend their own communal chicken coop and vegetable garden, as well as an indoor herb garden.
Kosher dining and specialized programs like neurological care are two of the draws at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. From the original 1919 facility, Chelsea has expanded to independent and assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing across campuses in Peabody, Chelsea and Winthrop.
Staff turnover is low – as evidenced by just two CEOs in nearly 50 years – and “residents like having the same person caring for them,” said spokesperson Debbie Weisberg. They also like Chelsea’s vibrant Jewish culture, including legendary Purim and Hanukkah parties. “And we’re committed to keeping the food kosher, even though it’s very expensive,” Weisberg added. “It’s our culture – and it’s been our tradition for over 100 years.”