COLUMBIA — The conversation was light and sprinkled with wit as a group of women chatted over lunch recently at Colony Pointe, a new assisted-living center in Columbia.
"Would you pass the salt, please?" Ida Lou Harrison, 98, asked her friend Dorothy Rankin, 93*.
"That will be 10 cents," Rankin said with a smile.
"I think I'm going to have to get my own salt," Harrison replied slyly.
Rankin and Harrison were the first residents to move into Colony Pointe on Chapel Hill Road after it opened on May 29.
They moved together from Bluff Creek Terrace on Bluff Creek Drive, largely because Colony Pointe is a newer building and closer to their families.
It is the newest assisted-living community in Boone County and is licensed to accommodate 75 residents, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Colony Pointe was built on one level with a dining room that serves three meals a day, a lounge area and a kitchenette for residents and visitors.
Boone County has a total of 23 facilities that offer assisted living, residential, intermediate and skilled nursing care, according to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Columbia is home to 16 such facilities, with a total of 1,246 licensed beds.
Of Columbia's 16 facilities, most are skilled nursing facilities while three are assisted-living centers and five residential care centers.
Lenoir Woods, a well-established center that offers a range of services, is in the process of tearing down a residential care facility to make way for an assisted-living complex.
Along the continuum of elder care, assisted-living communities are retirement housing options that allow independent living with extra help where needed.
Residents receive shelter and board, typically in an apartment setting with full dining services. Assistance is available for daily activities, such as eating, dressing, bathing and walking. This level of care also provides oversight for any medications.
Those who need 24-hour assistance, usually during a short-term illness or recuperation, have residential care as an option. Skilled nursing facilities are for those who need constant care.
As the older population has grown in number, demand for these services has kept pace.
Since 2000, the number of Americans 65 and older increased by 15.3 percent or 5.4 million, according to the Administration on Aging, while the under-65 population has increased only 8.7 percent.
In 1998, there were 11,459 assisted living facilities nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the number had almost tripled to more than 30,000 facilities.
The concept of assisted living arose in the mid-1980s, according to Karen Brown Wilson, author of Historical Evolution of Assisted Living in the United States, 1979 to the Present. It defined a new strategy of elderly care that emphasized independence rather than institutions.
According to Wilson's paper, between 1985 and 1992, varying degrees of "assisted living" emerged, so in 1992 an AARP study produced a solid definition — "a group residential setting not licensed as a nursing facility that provides or arranges personal care to meet functional requirements and routine nursing services."
Facilities with the title of "nursing homes" were getting negative press and demand for assisted-living situations began to rise, according to Wilson.
Elderly care centers in Columbia are typically owned and operated by religious organizations, local businesses, counseling centers and regional corporations.
Colony Pointe and Bluff Creek Terrace are both owned by Americare, a network of assisted living communities throughout Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
In Missouri, Americare operates in 39 cities, with six** centers in Columbia, according to Americare's website.
Newer facilities like Colony Pointe have updated their amenities to reflect improvements in safety and convenience. Harrison said she is most excited about the mini-fridge, walk-in shower and more convenient counter height in the rooms.
“The counters are lower here. And that’s nice because I’m short,” she said.
The two women met at the lunch table in Bluff Creek Terrace, where they would sit and talk almost every day. They arranged to have rooms across the hall from each other to continue their friendship.
“The only thing is, is that I don’t talk too much, and she does. So I just smile and sit and pretend I hear everything,” Harrison said.
Rankin said she knows Harrison is a good friend and enjoys her company.
"If she wasn't, I'd tell her," Rankin said, "But she knows I like her."