Sandy Prompts Some Elderly to Seek Assisted Living

MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (AP) -

For the first time in her life, Marion Johnston says she feels old.

The 80-year-old retired school secretary, who uses a walker to get around, is still adjusting to her surroundings as one of the newest residents at the Bristal Assisted Living retirement community. She moved in last month after the howling winds and rising flood waters of Superstorm Sandy destroyed her Long Island waterfront condominium.

Johnston had often thought about moving out of her home but Sandy “was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I just can’t be on my own.”

Though New York and New Jersey health care officials say it is too soon to confirm a spike, some senior care operators say they have seen a surge in older people relocating to assisted-living or retirement communities after Sandy. Prolonged power outages, wrecked homes and flooded streets have helped convince even the most self-sufficient seniors that they may not be capable of living independently.

Anne Pinter, senior vice president of the national assisted-living company Atria, said her company’s Northeast facilities saw an 18 percent increase in occupancy during October and November, compared with a year ago.

“There’s always some sort of trigger event, whether it’s a fall or a bad spell of health or a weather event,” Pinter said. In the case of the storm, children who ordinarily would be available to assist their parents were stuck contending with their own power outages or storm repair issues creating additional anxiety for everyone.

“All of a sudden they just can’t get there,” Pinter said.