Residents at Bellettini’s Toscano restaurant.

WE HEAR ABOUT it all the time: The population is aging at unprecedented rates. More people than ever before are living to 80 and beyond, and the baby boomer bulge is swelling the ranks of those in their 60s and older. Medical advances allow us to live longer, yet strain the health-care system and younger family members who help care for their aging parents. Here in Seattle, thanks to superior elder care and housing innovations, new models for senior lifestyles abound, rejecting the outdated institutional vibe and revitalizing retirement living. The options are endless, the fit is individual, and everyone we talked to agrees it’s best to start the search early. Here is Senior Housing 101 to get you started.

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Aljoya Thornton Place

450 NE 100th St, Northgate, 206-306-7920;

What You Get Aljoya Thornton Place opened in August, relying on new research (and old critiques) to rejuvenate the conventional CCRC concept. A 2006 study by prominent health-care analysts the Lewin Group showed that only 6 percent of people over 65 will ever need skilled care. That’s one reason Aljoya nixed the traditional built-in skilled-nursing wing in favor of serving patients in their own homes. Score points for privacy and dignity. Inside, a welcoming lobby with chocolaty tones and rich textures—mirrored ceiling, inlaid rugs, mod armchairs, marble-framed fireplace—leads to an open-to-the-public bistro, where anyone can grab a latte and lounge by the fire. The 143 environmentally conscious condominiums come in 53 floor plans—no cookie-cutter casas in this joint. In the backyard: Thornton Creek Water Quality Channel, a natural brook that serves as a pollution filtration system. Lilly’s, a luxe, chandeliered dining room, is the main (also public) eatery, open 7am to 8pm daily, offering alfresco dining and room service. After dinner Aljoyists head to the card lounge or catch a flick in the in-house theater. Golf aficionados play 18 holes with real clubs and balls on 15 PGA champ courses in the turf-carpeted simulated golf room, while aspiring artists sign up for watercolor classes next door.

Who It’s For Self-reliant eco-types who are ready to give up homeowner upkeep and enjoy a vibrant urban village.

Why I Live Here “I have the feeling that [the owners] really care about what they do,” says Linda Gould, retired associate director of the UW library system. “They like their business. They like providing this kind of care for seniors. And boy does that make a difference. They are incredibly responsive. I was just amazed. I mean, I had pages of questions, and they answered every single one.”

Cost $1,980–$3,995 monthly, plus entrance fee up to $775,000



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University House, Wallingford

4400 Stone Way N, Wallingford, 206-545-8400;

What You Get A haven for life-of-the-mind devotees. This assisted living and retirement community of 146 condo-style apartments was established in 1997 by Seattle-based 22-year senior housing vet Era Living. Saunter down to the San Juan Room for intellectual sparring with members of the Shakespeare Group, complete with ex–University of Washington live-in academics. Take a trip to the Seattle Symphony, go on the summertime Wallingford Art Walk, or stay in and enjoy a dramatic reading by resident and former Boeing computer engineer Myron Cohon. His recent performance of Arthur Miller’s The Ryan Interview packed the house.

University House dramatic reading.

U House keeps energy levels up with exercise and solid nutrition. Traditionalists enjoy Stretch and Flex classes while the adventurous gravitate toward “Wii and Drinks” soirees. Chef Amine Elbouchti, formerly of Daniel’s Broiler, runs the Rainier Dining Room, which overlooks the inner garden sanctuary. The goal is to keep residents active as long as possible; fewer than 30 out of 165 residents here receive some type of supportive service, such as med management. Everyone has visiting rights at the RN-directed walk-in wellness clinic for freebies like blood pressure checks or consultations. Oh, and a bit of advice? Get your name on the wait list a couple months in advance. University House’s reputation, location, and affiliation with the University of Washington Retirement Association keeps it full.

Who It’s For Astronomers, biologists, writers, ex–UW Law School librarians, and brainiacs galore.

Why I Live Here Myron Cohon gave up his 23rd-floor Belltown high-rise and its spectacular view of Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay, and Lake Union for the pleasure of living at University House. “I wanted to do more than just look at the view. Here, I can be active.”

Cost $2,380–$5,925 monthly, plus a onetime residency fee up to $2,000

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The Bellettini

1115 108th Ave NE, Bellevue, 425-450-0800; 

What You Get At the Bellettini, visitors enter a cobbled open-air courtyard honeyed with sunlight where a stone fountain bubbles. People lounge, sipping cappuccinos from the bistro. Downtown Bellevue’s elegant new retirement and assisted living community consists of 145 “luxury apartment homes”—think condo style with all the upgrades, like stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, tiled bathroom floors in marble or natural stone, and in-unit washer and dryer—that range in size from 700 to 2,400 square feet. The amenities could compete with any luxury resort. Two restaurants, casual Panini’s and fine-dining Toscano, welcome the public daily. Panini’s operates from 7am to 8pm (with happy hours from 3pm to 6pm and 9pm to closing) and is frequented by twentysomething professionals who figure the Belle for a hotel. Toscano plates until 10. Every month Darin Leonardson, former head chef for Google, organizes cooking demonstrations or a harvesting party in the on-site urban garden to help stock Toscano’s pantry with fresh veggies and herbs.

The PrimeFit Fitness Center, stocked with joint-friendly resistance training equipment, offers popular exercise classes like yoga, tai chi, and zumba dancing, and individualized workouts with a personal trainer. There’s even a brain fitness program to keep minds in top form with listening-focused exercises. Next door to the gym, Michael’s of Bellevue salon and spa, an area staple since 1979, serves residents and locals alike.

Cultural happenings organized by a former activities director for Princess Cruises may include such events as an Eastside Association of Fine Arts show featuring the Bellettini’s artist-in-residence Elaine Wilk, film screenings in the private theater outfitted with cozy leather club chairs, or private socials.

Who It’s For Movers and shakers who want to age in style and retire the word “elderly” for good.

Why I Live Here “The thing that I like the best—and I know this sounds silly but it’s the little things—is the valet parking,” says Esther Quint, resident and cofounder of the pool and spa supply-company Aqua Quip. “I don’t have to hassle with the garage. And not only that, there’s always the bright smile and the welcome back, and nice to see you, and did you have a good time? It doesn’t sound like much, but it makes you feel good. It lets you know that people are paying attention.”

Cost $3,200–$10,000 monthly, optional entrance fee starts at $250,000 and reduces monthly payments

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The Caroline Kline Galland Home

7500 Seward Park Ave S, Seward Park, 206-725-8800;

What You Get A top-ranked, nonprofit, skilled nursing facility originally built in 1914 at the behest of Bavarian-born founder and lifelong Seattle philanthropist Caroline Kline Galland. From its initial seven-person accommodations, the Lake Washington–view home has grown to include 205 beds. Unique for its dedication to the city’s Jewish community, Kline Galland provides uncommon perks like Orthodox services, holiday celebrations, and all-kosher menus drawn from Jewish culinary traditions. For Hanukkah several menorahs burn nightly and residents sing prayers and festive songs and play dreidel. Kosher treats include latkes (fried potato pancakes served with sour cream and applesauce), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). But no one is excluded: Gentiles, though a minority, also find a warm welcome. Both short- and long-term treatment is possible, including hospital rehab and end-of-life and cognitive care. Most permanent residents have multiple chronic illnesses, making vigilant care a necessity.

Who It’s For Seniors who want the best in care and creature comforts while remaining faithful to their traditions and the teachings of Judaism.

Why I Work Here David Brumer, director of social services and 12-year KG veteran, says, “The Jewish component was very important to me. The rewards, the unexpected delights are getting a chance to meet people with this wealth of experience who have survived world wars and The Depression and are incredibly accomplished individuals. I’ve met some of the most amazing people.”

Cost $280 daily, no entrance fee (accepts Medicare and Medicaid)

Emerald Hills Family Home

431 12th Pl N, Edmonds, 425-775-0381

What You Get The charcoal gray, single-family jewel tucked in the Edmonds view-home development Emerald Hills ropes in residents with spectacular Olympic Mountain and evergreen vistas. The owner, Jenica Vartolomeu, opened it in May 2008, after remodeling all 2,500 square feet of the upper floor. She widened hallways, installed tile roll-in showers, and dark mahogany hardwood floors for “safety and pleasure.” Residents enjoy the view from the warm, sunny wheelchair-accessible deck that spans the length of the house. Expansive picture windows lend an airy tranquility to rooms with green-apple and butter-yellow walls. But the heart of the home is the open, family-style kitchen and dining room. Boarders watch and sometimes pitch in while caregiver Simona prepares all-organic meals from scratch, rotating faves like pasta and meatballs, fish-and-chips, and roast beef. Sometimes they even borrow resident Ann Ahrens’s favorite recipes.

Twice weekly an activities pro leads Sit and Be Fit exercises, singing, and bingo. But the entertainment highlights remain games of Crazy Eights and spoiling the home’s beloved pup, Scruffy. The Hills welcomes all residents and their family members for regular birthday and holiday celebrations. Last year’s summer birthday party-slash-Fourth of July bash drew 63 revelers. Vartolomeu lives on site (the downstairs is her home) and brings 27 years of caregiving experience—14 served in a military hospital in Romania and 13 years stateside.

Who It’s For Those who like the home-sweet-home environment that comes with fewer residents, personalized, custom care, and an open-door policy for family.

Why I Live Here Ann Ahrens, mother of four and retired nurse of 31 years, says, “It’s so clean and homey, and I love the scenery. It’s just lovely; that’s all there is to it.”

Cost $4,000–$6,500 monthly, no entrance fee

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Clare Bridge at Silver Lake

2015 Lake Heights Dr, Everett, 425-337-6336;

What You Get The memory care–only facility Clare Bridge celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. What makes this place unique is its indoor Town Square. As the legend goes, the first Clare Bridge community was built by its original founder in Wisconsin in 1985 as a tribute to his mother and her painful struggle with Alzheimer’s. To make the community feel like home, he recreated his mother’s neighborhood corner, at Clare and Bridge streets, inside the building. Venture inside Silver Lake’s secured lakefront property and take a trip back in time to cobbled brick streets, the Hair Lady beauty shop, green- and red-striped awnings, and old-fashioned 1889 storefronts, while Johnny Cash croons over the sound system. Every morning at 10am the townsfolk gather in the square for coffee, mental and physical exercises, and an update from the daily paper. Community pets—Waldo the cat, Tilly the Russian tortoise, and Daisy the Shetland sheepdog—engage the residents throughout the day.

Two lanes end in cul de sacs of quaint country homes, each configured with 20 private suites and three shared suites. There are life-skills stations, like a faux woodshop, a gardening bench, and a nursery with specially designed, absolutely authentic-looking baby dolls. Though outsiders might find it strange, the stations “ensure daily moments of success” for each individual, including recreating the experience of mothering. Each lane has a large enclosed backyard and a smaller interior courtyard with benches for sunning, pathways for meandering, and planter boxes for gardening. Because of the ever-changing demands of dementia, Clare Bridge collects extensive life histories and constantly customizes care for each individual.

Who It’s For Memory travelers who need constant care to keep safe.

Why I Work Here Executive director Irene Harrison says it’s because of the philosophy of care at Clare Bridge. “It’s their home, and we just get to visit each day.”

Cost $3,395–$4,595 monthly, plus $1,500 community move-in fee

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Free Advice

A checklist for finding senior housing

How much does it cost?
Find out whether payments are daily or monthly and when and why they increase. At University House monthly rent increases once a resident begins receiving personal care and supportive health services. And always ask about additional costs, such as community fees or fees to reserve a spot on the wait list.

Is there an entrance fee?
The entrance fee goes up to $775,000 at Aljoya Thornton Place, in addition to monthly rent. Find out how much can be refunded should a resident decide to leave. Aljoya gives back 100 percent, but some locations only return 90 or 95 percent.

What kind of care do you provide?
Terms like “assisted living” and “CCRC” cover a broad range of care, and no two communities are alike. Ask to see the state disclosure of services, which specifies what kinds of support the community is licensed to offer.

Ask about licensing and staff accreditation.
The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services licenses all senior housing locations and staffers. Every place you visit should be able to produce their last annual licensing survey report. The Kline Galland has 70 nurses and upwards of 100 certified nursing assistants (CNAs), while Clare Bridge at Silver Lake has monthly all-staff meetings that highlight some aspect of dementia care as an ongoing training reinforcement.

What’s the ratio of caregivers to residents?
Adult family homes like Emerald Hills often have a ratio of 1 to 3 during the daytime and 1 to 6 at night, while the industry standard at memory care facilities like Clare Bridge is 1 to 6. Staff may include registered nurses, certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nursing assistants.

What happens in an emergency?
Twenty-four hour staffers are on call at nearly all retirement communities. For those who live in an independent-living apartment, such as the Bellettini, discreet call boxes may be installed throughout the apartment and morning check-in service is available on request.

—Rachel Solomon and Kristin Cordova, compiled with help from Nancy Ferrell, Fairwinds Redmond Retirement Community and

This article appeared in the December 2009 issue of Seattle Met Magazine.

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