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Senior Living

Meet the Resident – Bonnie Sommer

By Senior Living

We are pleased to welcome Bonnie Sommer, who joined the Castle Senior Living Family as a resident of Victorian Castle.

Bonnie says she’s “an open book” and can carry on a conversation with just about anyone. Here’s what we learned about her during a recent visit.


There were several big “firsts” for Bonnie Sommer in 2020. She turned 80-years-old in May and arrived at Victorian Castle around Christmas.

“It was such a fast move from where I was to here,” Bonnie recalls. “I was not happy at my other place, and my family and I were concerned that my former senior living community would close without warning. I was living day to day wondering if I’d have to move.

“My youngest son, Bob, did some research and found Victorian Castle. This place is wonderful. The people here are so friendly and helpful. My son wanted me to be close to him and it worked out. You turn a corner from his house and you’re here.”

Bonnie, who was born in Chicago and the oldest of three siblings, grew up in the Milwaukee area. She recalls her early life as an adventure with her father serving in the U.S. Army.

“In my time, mothers didn’t work. But, when my dad was away from home in the military, my mother took a job at a laundromat and raised us kids.

“We all had to look out for each other. You just have to keep working at it, even when things get hard.”

Bonnie attended Bay View High School, where she met Bill Sommer, who became her high school sweetheart. They later married and had three children, Bill, Sandy and Bob.

“Bill was in the U.S. Coast Guard and I was going to nursing school, but I was told that I had too much compassion to be a nurse so I had to find something else to do. I was disappointed at first, but we settled here. Bill was in the Coast Guard part-time and worked as a laborer at different factories. I worked at a drug store part-time and at various jobs in food service. I always enjoyed cooking.”

When we asked Bonnie what she loves most about Victorian Castle, she said, “The people. One of the residents here is a good friend. We hit it off so well that we watch football games together. I never watched football with my late husband, but my friend and I have the same kind of interests. If I had trouble with my TV, he would come and fix it for me.”

Bonnie appreciates the staff who stop by to talk with her. The people here take care of residents in good times and bad, she says, and you won’t go through any challenges alone.

“If I had a chance to move, I wouldn’t. I’m a queen and living in my castle now.”

A Look Ahead: What 2021 will look like for Castle Senior Living

By Senior Living

We shifted and forged ahead through an unusual year, accelerating our focus on the health and safety of residents and employees. Our team and the entire Castle Senior Living community accomplishes incredible things when we work together. Castle Senior Living Vice-President and Owner Kris Kiefer says we’re on the path to achieve even more in 2021.

What are you most proud of at Castle Senior Living as we leave 2020 behind?
I am so impressed with our team. We brought on some dynamic people like Diana Howell, Mitch Reuter, Samantha Brenner-Carr, Meghan Sullivan and others to support our team strengthen our fight against COVID-19. 2020 was a definitely a year for us to excel in leadership, and I saw firsthand how we focused and stayed together. There was a tremendous communication exchange between our COVID-19 committee, the state and local health departments, the residents and families, and I credit the direction of our team for that.

We have been a strong leader in the fight against COVID-19 and implementing preventative measures. We created additional positions to help support the care staff and allow for uninterrupted time off, if needed. New protocols were implemented for cleaning, visiting, dining, and activities that help maintain resident satisfaction while improving health safeguards.

There are no restrictions on admissions at Castle Senior Living. New people are moving in and it’s been a smooth and successful transition integrating them into our communities.

How have the past nine months led you as an owner of Castle Senior Living to adjust the focus of your business looking ahead to 2021 and beyond?
The time helped us discover what really matters. To us, it’s treating others like family and providing exceptional care. We realize that a lot can change in a year, and recognized that it is important to slow down and show those around you that you love and care about them.

Could you share some of your goals for Castle Senior Living in 2021?
There are several exciting activities. We are creating a Medicare-Certified Hospice service at our company. This will enhance the quality of care for residents nearing end-of-life. We hope to be certified by the end of this year. Additionally, we recently completed our ‘Smile to Remember’ Memory Care program, which will be implemented in the coming months. And we are pursuing expansion opportunities in the Milwaukee area to provide better living environments for seniors.

Tell us a bit more about “A Smile to Remember.” What will this program mean for families and residents in need of additional support?
When we first shared our goals of the program, we received nothing but positive feedback from our residents’ families. They understood that it was Castle Senior Living’s priority to focus on dementia care. Our program really puts things in perspective and outlines how to improve care for residents with dementia. We integrated this into our orientation and training throughout 2020 to make sure everything was laid out in detail because we want to be the experts in the field. This is not just a one-time thing, but part of ongoing training that we can follow. Our priority is to make sure residents have the best experience and best outcomes from what we put together.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry in 2021?
I believe it involves overcoming the fear factor of COVID-19. It’s our job to continuously reassure people that we abide by safety measures to protect against all viruses and bacteria. Community living for older Americans is a tremendous benefit – from the social aspect, quality of dining and health oversight.

Visitation is an issue that’s hurting the industry right now with restrictions on who can see our residents. When those constraints are lifted, it will definitely help to welcome back visitors on a regular basis.

It’s that time of year for resolutions. Is there a personal goal that you want to achieve in 2021?
For me, it’s all about staying healthy, improving my personal health and fitness, and spending time with my wife and four children.

I hope to play piano more for our residents, something that I haven’t been able to do since last March. I want to get back into the communities and take some personal song requests. That would be terrific.

Caregiver marks 10th anniversary with Castle Senior Living

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Congratulations to LaDonna Savage, a third shift caregiver at Emerald Castle, who celebrated her tenth work anniversary with us earlier this year! LaDonna says caring for others is her way of life as she manages two full-time jobs while looking after her family and grandchildren. She recently spent some time with us and shared how her dedication for helping people led her to the Castle Senior Living family.

Tell us about your journey to become a caregiver?

My mom got sick in 2000, so I started looking into how to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or caregiver. I quit my job managing a fast-food restaurant and went into caregiving with no experience. I always served people and my community in a different way. Helping the disabled and the sick is my way of giving back.

I’m always taking care of someone. I have a husband, nine grandchildren with the nine children I had growing up in our home. I’ve also work full-time, second shift for residents at a developmentally disabled facility for 15 years along with my Castle Senior Living position. These are the people I see and serve every day.

What do you enjoy most about working for Castle Senior living at the Emerald Castle community?

I’d have to say it’s the one-on-one time and the care for residents. I look forward to seeing them each day, especially the ones that stay up when I start my shift at 11:00 pm. They call me the ‘third shift cleaning lady.’ I cook, clean, do the laundry and prep for the next day. Some residents want food, a cup of coffee or some just like to talk to me. The residents know you. You have to be sincere, have patience and compassion. It comes from the heart.

I’m glad to be a part of the team and a great company. It’s not just a job here. There’s incredible support and compassion for employees. During the time I’ve worked for Castle Senior Living, I had two house fires and our family lost everything. They were there with donations and time off until I was ready to come back. When you lose everything, it’s nice to know you have family. When my mom died in 2015, their support was beautiful. No one ever knows how far the love goes outside your family. When I returned to work, the support and love from co-workers was there.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned on the job in the past year?

With the pandemic, we learned to be safer and it’s important to continue to do so. As workers, we are going outside of the building. We don’t want this crisis coming into our doors.

I have a lot of patience – more than I ever thought. I learned it is my destiny to help others, to love and support them.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I like having my hair done. That’s my downtime and own time. Just for me.

Tell us something interesting about yourself that other people might not know.

The people here say I’m funny, amazing, and honest. I don’t hold back. My supervisor says I tell it like it is. Honesty is the best way. Anyone that knows me understands that no matter what I say, I never mean any harm.

What to look for when checking in on elderly relatives during the holidays

By Senior LivingNo Comments

Christmas and the New Year are those major family occasions where you may be spending more time with your elderly parents and relatives. This year is quite different with in-person visits discouraged and stay-at-home pleas from government officials to help curb the spread of COVID-19, especially as we head into the winter season.

If you are in contact with older adults these days, whether virtually or in-person, pay close attention to how they are doing and what they could be revealing to you. There are subtle signs to watch for that could indicate a possible decline in their abilities:

  • Withdrawing from normal activities – When a person is no longer showing interest in hobbies or tasks such as housecleaning and paying bills on time.
  • Unsteady on their feet and overall slowing down – A loved one’s movements are becoming delayed, which is unlike their usual pace, and they admit to falling at home.
  • Appetite and weight loss – For someone who once loved to cook and eat, little to no appetite and a visual weight loss are concerns that should be addressed.
  • Sleep – A change in routine where someone is sleeping more during the day and awake at night.

Investigate by asking questions of your loved one to possibly learn why this may be happening. If this does not generate much of a response or lead to any significant conclusions, a doctor’s visit is the next recommended step.

Discussing these issues is never an easy task for children of elderly parents. If you find yourself in this situation, consider the guidelines from a blog we posted this time last year, Approaching Difficult Conversations with Mom and Dad. And know that the team here at Castle Senior Living is always open to provide insight and resources if you have questions or concerns.

Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness advances research and a patient’s quality of life

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In August, results of a groundbreaking study led by a team of scientists at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was released that may provide genetic clues into the cognitive resilience of the human brain – that’s the organ’s ability to protect itself against disease and improve the chances of recovering from injury. Experts say this medical research could now help scientists discover new ways of developing treatments for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common form of dementia and a leading cause of death among older Americans in the U.S. We’ve noted more than one thousand November days of “National Alzheimer’s Disease Month” in our country since President Ronald Reagan – himself later a victim of the disease – signed a proclamation declaring it so in 1986.

Taking the time to recognize the signs of Alzheimer’s is important on so many levels:

  • It’s a progressive disease where patients become worse over time, falling away from routines.
  • When the disease is fully developed, patients aren’t sure where they are or may be unable to talk.
  • Based on overall health, some may live as little as eight years, while others can survive up to 20 years with the disease.

At Castle Senior Living, our memory care program is a top objective. This year, we launched an enhanced approach called, “A Smile to Remember.”

We recognize that a smile is the universal sign for happiness. Studies show that patients with advanced dementia can reciprocate the feeling of a genuine smile, which helps lower their blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, and improve their mood. Our Dementia Care Practitioner and team of medical experts designed this program to transform the way people think about dementia. It allows our team to build happy, healthy relationships with residents, develop person-centered approaches that are custom to them, including proper nutrition, therapy and involvement in an engaging and continuous learning environment.

“A Smile to Remember” is our unique program for memory care, where our goal is to inspire those with dementia to live an active and meaningful lifestyle in our communities. Please contact us if you have questions or would like more information about our program.

Meet the Residents – Curtis and Claire Semmler

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When husband and wife, Curtis and Claire Semmler, moved into Birchrock Castle two years ago this November, the experience was not what they expected.

“When we first found out about this place, they told us there were only two rooms open,” recalls Curtis. “We had to move quickly and moved in two weeks to get here. I thought it (Birchrock Castle) was like nursing homes (of the past), but it wasn’t.”

The retired couple – Curtis is 68 and Claire is 66 – had been living in a nice apartment in Waukesha at the time, but recognized they needed more support in their daily lives. Birchrock Castle’s Assisted Living was the best choice for them.

“We had a meeting with Candy Mings, Birchrock’s administrator, and others from Castle, including my sister, Karen,” Claire remembers. “In the apartment, Curtis and I didn’t get much help. We always asked visiting agents, but they would say they couldn’t make it. Our case manager recommended Birchrock Castle, so here we are.”

“I wanted a place with people our own age,” says Curtis. “Here, we can go outside and walk around the house on the patio. We put on our sunglasses and enjoy the outdoor flowers and Dale Dent’s tomatoes.

Claire chimed in, “Dale is our neighbor across the hall and has a great sense of humor.” Read our blog about Dale in Castle’s Meet the Resident.

“We do as much as we can on our own here. If we need help, we ask. I can get dressed, but I need help with the shower. We have a lot of nice friends, terrific caregivers and Jolene is a wonderful cook.”

The Semmler’s also had medical concerns to consider when looking for a new home. Claire is on oxygen because of a bad bout with pneumonia a couple of years ago. Curtis recovered from a throat cancer diagnosis in April 2017 and remains cancer free. The two married thirty years ago in May. Theirs is a sweet love story.

“I worked at the training center in Waukesha,” Claire recalls. “I saw Curtis and he saw me, right Curt? And we saw each other and that was it. I said that’s the guy for me.

“We don’t have kids, but we’re still like kids. I love my honey,” she says.

The two also worked in retail, most notably at the Pick ‘n Save in Waukesha. It’s a place Birchrock Castle Administrator Candy Mings recalls frequenting as a young woman.

“I grew up in Waukesha and I used to shop there with my mom in high school,” says Candy. “Thirty years later, I went to Curtis’ apartment and I still remembered him working there. His hair was darker at that time,” she quips.

Since coming to Birchrock Castle, Curtis and Claire heap heavy praise on the activity team for their many fun games, projects and exercise sessions to keep them active. Claire says she and Curtis both eat healthier now and have lost weight. They both agree that Castle Senior Living is helping them live a better life.

“My room is nice and comfortable,” says Claire. “If I want it peaceful for a while, I go there. We just got a new refrigerator. I wanted a purple one, so Candy found it for me online. Curtis also got a new recliner and a TV.

“We love Candy and all the caregivers here. They work hard. If you need them, they’re right there for you. This place is big, so you can get around better.”

Many injuries from falls among older adults are preventable

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The statistics on fall-related injuries are quite staggering. Every 11 seconds emergency department staff across the U.S. attend to an older adult who has taken a fall. One-third of those over age 65 will fall every year.

September is “Fall Prevention Month” in Wisconsin. Our state has one of the highest death rates in the country for accidental falls – twice the national average. It’s why the mission of the Wisconsin Falls Prevention Initiative is to reduce accidental falls, fall-related injuries and deaths among the state’s older adults through community-based and preventative medical care.

How to help older adults take control before a fall:

  • Enroll in a good exercise program – This will help build balance, strength and flexibility.
  • Communicate with your health care provider – How much is your loved on at risk of falling? Be honest and share any recent incidents with professionals to assess the situation.
  • Reevaluate your medications – Are there side effects with medicines that could lead to falling more often? Consult with a doctor or pharmacist.
  • Consider your eyesight and hearing – When you can see and hear well, you’re less likely to fall. Update glasses prescriptions and have eyes checked annually.
  • Review home safety – Are there tripping hazards or low lighting in areas that should be updated? Think about installing grab bars where necessary.
  • Speak with your family – When someone takes a fall, it affects everyone in the home and extended family. Make sure they have much-needed support to keep them from harm.

Through research and planning, many Wisconsin communities have implemented fall prevention or healthy aging programs and associations. There is also a falls prevention workshop available in almost all Wisconsin counties to address the risk factors.  There is proof that the state’s program, Stepping On, has curbed the number older adults who fall each year by more than 30%. You can also learn more on how to fall-proof your home or take a self-assessment survey from the Wisconsin Institute for Healthy Aging.

Here at Castle Senior Living, Fall Prevention is a key focus due to how much it impacts the overall health and wellness of our residents. Our rooms and public areas are set up to avoid tripping hazards and prevent falls. If you have questions or concerns on how to prevent falls at home or elsewhere, we encourage you to reach out. We’re happy to provide support!

Camelot Castle: A Q & A with Antonia “Annie” Odupitan

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Antonia “Annie” Odupitan is the house manager at Camelot Castle in Greenfield. Her career story began as a teenage volunteer. With continuing education in health care, Annie hopes she can grow as an employee along with Castle Senior Living.


You have worked in many aspects of senior care. Could you share a bit about your journey in this field?

I started volunteering at St. Mary’s Nursing Home at 35th and Center in Milwaukee when I was 14. My aunt was the charge nurse. I used to play the card game, Kings in the Corner, and bingo with the nuns. I enjoyed learning about the ladies’ life stories. Once I was able to legally work, I became a dietary aid there. But I realized that job didn’t allow me to spend time one-on-one with the residents, so I left.

When I was 19, I worked as a live-in caregiver for three years at an assisted living facility while I pursued a bachelor’s degree at UW-Milwaukee in Information Science and Technology. Once I finished college, my husband and I agreed that I should be a stay at home mom. Over the years, I was a part-time caregiver. Once my kids went to school, I took a full-time job in the banking industry and worked as a caregiver every other weekend. My job in corporate America made me realize that I have more of a passion for health care than technology, so that led me to a full-time position as a house manager at Castle Senior Living.  My goal is to merge both my degree and passion for health care with another degree or certificate. As Castle Senior Living grows, I hope they will find a place for my future skill set.


What are the qualities or special skills that you bring to the job?

I am skilled in hospice care, so I can adapt to the different stages, and have empathy for the residents and families as their loved one transitions. My experience in dementia care helps me navigate through the many levels of the illness, including dementia advancement and Alzheimer’s disease. I’m a problem-solver who guides residents through the various changes to ensure that their safety and all of the activities of daily living are met.


What do you enjoy most about working for Camelot Castle?

The diversity of the residents. I love talking to them, learning about their past and the experiences they have encountered in their lives. It’s like getting a full history lesson every time I’m on the job.

I worked at Cambridge Castle in Milwaukee for a while and used my skills to interact with the residents affected by dementia. It’s an incredible feeling to help a resident adapt to their environment. I witnessed how my compassion and patience made them feel loved and cared for. It made me feel good knowing that I was making a difference in someone’s life.


What are you most passionate about at work?

I want to be more than a caregiver and employee to a resident. I pride myself on making a positive impact. I want them to know that they have a friend in me. Before the pandemic and most especially now, many do not have the opportunity to see their friends and family regularly. I’m grateful that my being there for them makes them happy.


Is there a project or idea that you are working on right now at Camelot Castle?

I am helping residents register to vote. This requires setting up an appointment for them to renew their identification and mailing in the proper forms in time for the November election.


What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned on the job?

As a house manager, I have learned emotional intelligence and accountability is everything.

In the past year, I’ve personally learned to live my life every day.  A family member once told me a personal story that touched me deeply. It made me rethink the way I approached life and how I was putting things off that I wanted to do once I was older. Tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone, so it’s best to enjoy life right now.


Tell us something interesting about yourself that other people might not know.

I’ve played the trumpet since I was 12 years old. I am a Certified Red Cross swimmer. I traveled a lot as a child, so I attended four elementary schools, three high schools and moved away from home at the age of seventeen to a different state. I guess that’s why I love to travel a lot, especially abroad to visit friends and family.

A Brief Guide to Senior Living Communities

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There are many lifestyle options for senior living and services today. While it’s wonderful to consider a variety of alternatives, it can be confusing to determine the best choice for your loved one.

The following are opportunities to help guide your decision-making:

Home Care – Home care is for older Americans who want to stay at home as long as they are able with some light assistance from outside help. Caregivers can perform light housework, meals, and personal needs such as bathing, dressing, transportation and companionship. Hire a home care aide for a few hours a week or on up to 24-hour live-in care. When it comes to choosing health care services at home, look to potential caregivers for professionalism, affordability, and reputation. The people put in charge of your loved one should be well-trained, certified and experienced. They should be respectful, empathetic and compassionate about helping seniors live well in a satisfying home environment.

Independent Living – When downsizing from a home is the best choice for older Americans in good health, independent living facilities such as apartments, townhomes or condos can accommodate their physical, emotional and social needs. Independent living is considered a popular choice for seniors who are able to live on their own and want a more simplified, secure, maintenance-free place to live. Our Birchrock Castle Community offers both apartments and town homes. These apartments are private, intercom secured, with emergency alarms in bedrooms and bathrooms. An exercise room, game room and library are available, and there are monthly activities scheduled for residents who wish to participate.

Assisted Living – Assisted living facilities generally provide residents an apartment or a room in addition to several common area spaces for their recreation and visitors. At Castle Senior Living, we offer compassionate assisted living care to seniors in ten communities in the greater Milwaukee area. Around-the-clock supervision, a full-time nurse, home-cooked meals, housekeeping and laundry, assistance with personal care and medications are among the numerous services. Our activities include daily exercise, social events, day trips, and therapy sessions with animals and music to create a community-like atmosphere that feels like home.

Memory Care – Some facilities offer specialized services for people with dementia through a memory care unit, wing or floor. This option is for seniors who are forgetful and suffer from different forms of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. At Castle Senior Living, we treat residents with such physical and mental health ailments. Situated in smaller environments, memory care programs involve a professionally trained nursing team to adapt care and cater to individual needs. These communities include enhanced security measures such as enclosed outdoor spaces, and secure entries and exits to keep residents from wandering away.

Nursing Home – If a loved one is in need of 24-hour supervision because of a progressive medical issue and there’s no primary caregiver available, a skilled care facility is considered the next highest level of health care. Full-medical staff is on site, which allows for certain procedures and therapies to be performed unlike other senior housing. Each resident is assigned to a physician, in addition to certified staff helping people in and out of bed, with meals, bathing, and getting dressed.

Consider referrals from other family and friends about their experiences and do your research. We are happy to help you with any questions you may have. Feel free to contact us! The more you know about what’s available in senior living, the greater the chances that you will find the best housing opportunity to fit the needs of your loved one.

Meet the Resident – Ruth Krowski

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Ruth Krowski moved to assisted living at the Grand Hills Castle about a year and a half ago. The 86-year old is living with Parkinson’s Disease.

“We couldn’t regulate my medication and I needed a place that could help me do that much better,” she says. “I leave a lot of major decisions up to my three daughters and son. My daughters looked at many places and found that they liked the Grand Hills Castle the best.”

Ruth has never looked back. She enjoys life in a Castle Senior Living community.

“I like the people here very much. I always tell the aides that anyone who can do what they do on a daily basis has to be great.

“I really connect with them and we giggle a lot. They will come in my room and talk to me. They are very good to the residents here – so good to them. I often wonder how they do it, especially now.”

Living through the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything Ruth has ever experienced.

“I have to stay hopeful,” she says. “I’m not always a person that can do that. Sometimes I get nervous, but I want to stay positive and I have to do that. I think I’ve been holding up pretty well.”

Ruth says she stays mostly in her room, and it doesn’t bother her for residents to sit at separate tables for their meals. Adult coloring books help her pass the time. It’s become her new favorite hobby.

“When I first arrived at the Grand Hills Castle, I met a couple of the ladies and we’re now close so I catch up with them a lot. I walk inside around the building in the morning after exercises and then after supper.

“My four kids call me every day. My daughter comes here once a week because she does my laundry. She talks to me through the window. My son and his wife also stop by my window. It would be terrible for me if I couldn’t see them. They bring me treats. I think it’s harder for them than it is for me. I’m still around people here. My daughter who lives in Madison comes when she can because of the virus, and I have a daughter in Florida and we talk frequently.”

Ruth, who was born and raised on Milwaukee’s south side, says she had a good upbringing along with her sister. Her father worked in a machine shop and her mother stayed at home.

“She showed me how to sew,” Ruth recalls. “I sewed every stich of clothing that I owned over the years. My grandmother taught me how to knit, so I made mittens and scarves for all my kids and grandkids.”

Ruth attended Mound Street School and then Bayview High School. She enrolled at Milwaukee Accredited Beauty School and was a beautician for a few years until her late husband, John, got out of the Army after serving in the Korean War and they decided to start a family.

When asked what she believes is her most remarkable accomplishment in life, Ruth provided an immediate answer.

“My children. They turned out great. I stayed home all the time with my kids and I loved it. It’s a treat to be a stay-at-home mother.

“I babysat four of my eight grandchildren and cared for many kids over the years. It was my hobby. Those grandkids are so good to me. You should see the many cards that they send to me in the mail now. I’m so proud of them.”