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Sonata Senior Living’s CEO Named McKnight's Women of Distinction Honoree

sonata news release cropped

Sonata Senior Living’s CEO Named McKnight’s Women of Distinction 2023 Honoree

ORLANDO, FL—February 24, 2023—Co-Founder, President, and CEO Shelley Esden of Orlando-based Sonata Senior Living has been inducted into the Hall of Honor in the McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards, a joint program of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News, McKnight’s Senior Living, and McKnight’s Home Care. The awards program recognizes women who have made a significant impact on their organization or in the long-term care industry.

Esden joins Chief Operating Officer, Jamie Merrill, as the second Sonata Senior Living executive to be named a McKnight’s Women of Distinction honoree.

“I am extremely honored to be selected as a McKnight’s Woman of Distinction. Pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in senior living and inspiring others to do the same is the driving force behind every decision I’ve made in both my professional and personal life. I’m excited to join the ranks of this prestigious program alongside other women who have dedicated their lives to improving the future of long-term care in this country,” said Shelley Esden, President and CEO of Sonata Senior Living.

As a Hall of Honor inductee, Esden was recognized for her significant contributions to the senior living industry. According to the program’s website, inductees are also nominated and selected for their ability to inspire others and for having a powerful effect on the lives of the individuals they serve.

Esden’s ability to positively affect and inspire others has played out over the course of her 25-year career in senior living operations, development, and management. Appointed as Chairperson of the Florida Senior Living Association in 2022, she is widely regarded as an industry trailblazer who actively champions advocacy efforts and legislation that benefit senior living operators and the seniors they serve.

The Women of Distinction award comes at the culmination of a career devoted to reimagining and improving the senior living industry and a career trajectory that began in graduate school while working as Advocacy Coordinator for Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs. She went on to serve as Florida’s 1995 White House Conference on Aging Coordinator and was promoted to Assistant Director of the Florida Commission on Long-term Care, where she was responsible for creating the managed care diversion project still serving Florida’s seniors today.

It is through her personal life that Esden recognized firsthand the difference a caregiver can make in the lives of others. During her childhood, Esden’s mother worked as a CNA in a skilled nursing facility, exposing her to the senior care industry early on. In the 1990s, when her mother needed care, Esden’s experience left her with a profound desire to affect change.

Esden’s personal experiences sparked a passion for improving resident services in senior living and were the catalyst behind her transition from senior living advocate to operations, first as an administrator with Marriott Senior Living followed by various multi-site management roles for leading national providers Summerville Senior Living and Legacy Senior Living. By 2007, Esden co-founded Elle Senior Living, an executive consulting firm. Shortly thereafter, she joined forces with Sonata’s Managing Partner, Stuart Beebe, to form Sonata Senior Living in 2008.

Esden’s drive for excellence is underscored by the many achievements that have advanced the senior living industry, including the 2004 President’s Award, Executive Director of the Year at Summerville Senior Living; the 2011 and 2012 ALFA (Argentum) Best of the Best awards for Programs to Spotlight; the 2012 ASID Mary Louise Schum Design Award for Sonata at Melbourne; and the 2013 and 2014 Florida ALFA (Argentum) Outstanding Achievement Awards, among others.

For all her accolades, she remains most appreciative of her accomplishments at Sonata Senior Living, where her dedication and passion create value for partners and consumers alike. These include the development of seven senior living communities and the acquisition of seven turnaround communities with an emphasis on establishing new standards of operational efficiencies, service delivery, and integration of innovations.

One of the most notable development projects to come online under Esden was Florida’s pioneering stand-alone memory care community, Serenades Memory Care. Designed and built using the most advanced science on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Serenades’ purpose-built design received recognition from ALFA (Argentum) as a 2011 and 2012 “Best of the Best” program. Most recently, she led the team responsible for launching an innovative new memory care concept called Serenades For Her.

Esden’s determination to raise the bar in senior living is evident in each new development and acquisition undertaken by Sonata Senior Living. Today, she is keenly focused on establishing Sonata Senior Living as a leading provider and implementing the company’s growth plans.

About Sonata Senior Living

Sonata Senior Living is a regional owner, developer, and operator of independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities. Founded in 2008, Sonata currently operates over 1,090 units throughout Florida. The tenured Sonata team has earned a longstanding reputation as a trusted and proven provider of new development and turnaround acquisitions. Recipients of multiple Argentum Best of Best Awards, innovation, and service awards, Sonata’s pursuit of service excellence, unwavering commitment to its core values, and investment in workforce and culture have made Sonata a provider of choice. For more information about Sonata’s management and development services, visit

About McKnight’s Women of Distinction Awards Program

McKnight’s Women of Distinction awards program is a joint effort of McKnight’s Senior LivingMcKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Home Care. Eligible for recognition are women working as direct care providers, managers, executives, corporate executives and owners in independent living, assisted living, memory care and life plan communities, as well as those working in those capacities in skilled nursing facilities and in home care, home health, hospice and palliative care. The program is judged by a national, independent panel of judges. Overall, 26 states are represented by the honorees across each of the three major awards categories. The 2023 honorees will be celebrated Monday, May 22, at the JW Marriott in Chicago. The presentation of awards will be preceded by the fourth annual McKnight’s Women of Distinction Forum, offering educational sessions featuring industry thought leaders discussing important topics. Learn more about the Women of Distinction Awards Program.

Biography of Shelley Esden, President and CEO, Sonata Senior Living

 As Co-Founder, President and CEO of Sonata Senior Living, Shelley Esden brings more than 20 years of frontline experience to the complex issues facing owner-operators in senior living. Her passion for all aspects of senior housing has been instrumental to Sonata’s growth, where she is responsible for crafting the company culture, inspiring an expanding workforce, and innovating services to meet the demands of a changing world. Her passion to serve began with her early work improving access to housing with the State of Florida’s Commission on Long Term Care. Prior to forming Sonata in 2008, her management roles at Summerville Senior Living, Legacy Senior Living, and Marriott Senior Living led to vast improvements in resident services and experience. Today, Shelley is devoted to shaping the people and processes that drive the future of senior living, from training to technology and design. Her expertise in advancing programs, products and services that promote healthy aging led to the prestigious Argentum ‘Best of the Best’ award for Serenades Memory Care by Sonata. Shelley is a 2023 McKnight’s Women of Distinction Hall of Honor inductee and Chair of the Florida Senior Living Association. She also sits on the Executive Advisory Board for Argentum and holds a BS in Political Science from the University of Florida and an MHA from Florida State University.

Shelley Esden CEO

Shelley Esden, Co-Founder, President and CEO, Sonata Senior Living

Expect More At Sonata

Visit a Sonata community and find out why putting service first has allowed us to continually raise the bar in senior living and exceed our residents’ expectations.


caregiver burnout

Safe Home Visits By Sonata

Home Safety and Wellness Assessments

If you have a loved one who is showing signs of declining health or independence, you may wonder what level of support they need.

Providing care in the home may have worked well for a time, but may no longer be affordable as care needs increase. Perhaps a health event such as a fall or stroke has caused you to assume the role of caregiver. Or a parent’s health has been slowly declining for years and reaching a point where living without assistance is no longer safe.

No matter the situation, deciding on the level of care and assistance a loved one needs—whether it be a parent, grandparent or a spouse—is never easy and usually rife with emotion.

Agreeing on the right time to move to assisted living is also an emotional decision. Many times, a parent or loved one is reluctant to move for fear of losing their independence. If you find yourself in this situation—or know someone who is—a Home Safety and Wellness Assessment can help you weigh the pros and cons of caring for a loved one at home vs. moving so you have more information on hand to make the right choice for you and your loved ones.

What is the goal of a home visit from Sonata Senior Living?

According to wellness leadership at Sonata Senior Living, the primary goal of a home visit is to make recommendations to families that will ensure the safety and well-being of a loved one who may be experiencing declining health and in need of some assistance.

Upon receiving a request for a home visit, we’ll schedule a convenient time to meet with a family in their home to conduct a Home Safety and Wellness Assessment.

A safe home visit can be requested by calling a Sonata Senior Living community near you.

What does a Home Safety and Wellness Assessment consist of?

The Home Safety and Wellness Assessment is offered as a free service by Sonata to educate and guide families with a loved one in need of some assistance with self-care or activities of daily living.

It is designed not only to assess the wellness and safety of older adults who may be struggling with daily tasks such as cooking, bathing and dressing, but also avail services and resources that can make aging in place safer.

As part of the assessment, a licensed nurse will do a head-to-toe assessment that examines an individual’s need for assistance in the several areas such as:

  • Mobility
  • Bathing
  • Medication Management
  • Dressing and Grooming
  • Device assistance (hearing aids, walker)
  • Continence
  • Diet and nutrition (low-salt diet)
  • Nutritional supplements
  • Chronic illnesses/disease
  • Cognitive Safety (ability to remember medications)
  • Physical Safety (stairs, throw rugs)
  • Cognitive awareness (i.e. forgetting to pay bills)

The assessment tool used by the nurse will assist in making the most informed recommendations, including a comprehensive services plan and determination of care needs that families can use to make decisions about the future care and safety of their loved ones.

What kind of questions will be asked in a Home Safety and Wellness Assessment?

The assessment tool uses a point-based scoring system to ascertain the level of assistance that may be required to support a loved one, whether that be in the home or in a long-term care setting.

In a typical home visit, we’ll ask a series of questions that relate to an individual’s health and functional history. For example:

  • Is it difficult to get out of bed?
  • Do you use any assistance devices such as a shower chair?
  • Do you sit down in the shower and can you clean your feet?
  • Do you get dressed independently?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Does a family or caregiver help you remember to take medications?
  • Do you cook your own meals?
  • Do you do your own housekeeping?
  • Do you find it challenging to keep the home clean?

Questions related to ambulation or the ability to walk help the nurse assess an individual’s balance and may result in a recommendation for physical or occupational therapy to teach a safer way to bath or walk to prevent future falls in the home.

How do you ensure safety during a home visit?

Safety is an important aspect of the Home Safety and Wellness Assessment, particularly during the pandemic. As standard practice, the visiting nurses will wash their hands as soon as they enter the home. In addition, social distancing best practices are followed, ensuring a minimum of six feet distance from all family members in the home.

Home visit nurses are required to use personal protective equipment (PPE) during a home visit, including an N95 mask, a face shield, gown and shoe covers to ensure the safety of older adults in the home.

How can families prepare for a home visit?

Actually, it is best not to prepare too much. According to Sonata, it is better if the family caregiver is not in the room during the assessment for objectivity. A “private conversation” with the individual in need of care tends to result in a more accurate assessment. That’s because when other family members are present during an interview, the individual in need of care may not answer questions honestly or accurately for fear of worrying other family members. They may feel embarrassed about their declining health and don’t want to be perceived as a burden.

In order to get an accurate depiction of a living situation, Sonata asks families not to clean the house or modify the living environment so that she may identify areas of concern. For example, an overflowing trash bin or full sink of dishes may indicate a need for additional support.

What forms need to be completed during a home visit?

There are no forms required for a home visit, however, knowing your loved one’s medical history can assist in the Home Safety and Wellness Assessment.

Notes from your loved one’s physician can be helpful but are not required. If you have these documents, share them with the nurse during his or her visit:

  • A completed 1823 form
  • A list of medications
  • A list of chronic illness/disease
  • History or surgeries
  • Vaccine history
  • List of doctors and specialists
  • Latest progress notes from primary care doctor

Sonata recommends that families review the list of medications provided by a physician to ensure that all current medications are included. Sometimes a primary care doctor has not been updated to prescribed medications from specialists and a comprehensive list of medications will be required prior to moving to assisted living.

What is an AHCA Form 1823?

The AHCA Form 1823 – also known as the Resident Health Assessment for Assisted Living Facilities – is a legal form published by the Florida Agency For Health Care Administration. The 1823 form will eventually be required to be admitted to assisted living and must be completed by your primary care physician. The form is used by senior care providers to determine the level of care best suited for your loved one.

If you do not have a Form 1823, Sonata can provide you with one during the home visit or you can access one here.

What types of guidance are offered to families during a home visit?

During a home visit, an LPN from Sonata will review your loved one’s physical and cognitive abilities and limitations, diet and nutrition, behavior, nursing, medication and treatment needs, and ability to perform activities of daily living, self-care and hygiene. This information ultimately helps to determine if your loved one is a good fit for assisted living, home care or some other form of support so that an LPN can make a recommendation based on your unique circumstances.

In many cases, home care is a possible solution if a family is able to provide sufficient care at home. Or, home care may be a better interim solution for a family until a full transition to assisted living is more appropriate. Assisted living may be a better solution for families that are no longer able to provide the level of support that is needed. Memory care may be appropriate if symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia have become more advanced.

If a family decides to provide care to their loved one at home, Sonata’s LPN can arrange assistance with making the home safer for your loved one or providing community resources. If assisted living is more appropriate, Sonata’s LPN will provide education about the assisted living lifestyle and transition process.

Final Home Safety and Wellness Assessment recommendations are made based on the level of supervision that is needed in the home for your loved one to remain healthy and safe.

To learn how Sonata can help, contact us today→ or schedule a visit →

Download Your Guide To Healthy Aging & Longevity in Florida

Florida sunshine does more than just boost your Vitamin D levels. It can add years to your life! Find your personal path to good health and longevity in our FREE guide to Healthy Aging in Florida.


pumpkin spice cake at sonata

Sonata Senior Living’s Holiday Dessert Contest Winners

Sonata Senior Living’s Holiday Dessert Collection

The holidays are an especially joyous time at Sonata Senior Living and this year we have a lot to celebrate. To show appreciation to our families what could be sweeter than passing down traditions and connecting through food? In the spirit of sharing, we couldn’t think of a better way to pass on our traditions than to post the most prized of Sonata’s holiday desserts.

Dining services and desserts are an essential part of the holiday season at Sonata Senior Living and one of many reasons why our residents love living at our independent living and assisted living communities.

Enjoy this collection of holiday dessert recipes courtesy of our executive chefs.


Coquita panna cotta by sonata west

Panna cotta, which means cooked cream in Italian, is an Italian dessert made of sweetened cream and thickened with gelatin. A traditional Puerto Rican holiday beverage with roots dating back to the 1900s, Coquito means “little coconut” in Spanish and is made with rum, fresh coconut milk and cream. Put them together and voilà! You have Sonata Senior Living’s most beloved holiday pudding.


  • 2 – 13.5 oz cans (382g) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 (6g) teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 packets (7g) unflavored gelatin
  • 15 oz can coconut cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup white or aged rum


  • In the medium sauce pot, heat coconut milk, heavy cream, coconut cream, sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Add the rum and the gelatin and whisk until everything get fully combined. Do not boil the liquid.
  • Retire from the heat and serve in a 7oz silicone mold and store in the refrigerator at least 4 to 6 hours.



pumpkin spice cake at sonata

Pumpkin desserts are a holiday classic and added to everything from pies to parfaits to cake pops. At Sonata Senior Living, our favorite pumpkin recipe combines the powerful and nostalgic aroma of cinnamon and pumpkin pie spices with the crunchiness of pecans and creaminess of caramel for an explosion of fall flavor.

Ingredients – Pumpkin Cake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 3 tbs ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 ¾ cup pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ¾ cup room temperature butter
  • 4 eggs room temperature
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract

Ingredients – Cinnamon Cream Cheese Icing:

  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup room temperature butter
  • 16 oz room temperature cream cheese
  • 5 to 6 cups powdered sugar

Ingredients – Caramel Pecan Topping:

  • 1 cup toasted pecans
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 12 tbs butter room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions For Cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350°
  • Prepare cake pans with none stick spray, or butter pans thoroughly.
  • In a large mixing bowl add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and sugar, and mix well.
  • In a separate medium size bowl, add pumpkin, butter, eggs and vanilla, and mix well until fully incorporated.
  • Add wet ingredients into the dry batter bowl and slowly incorporate all wet ingredients. Mix until batter is smooth with no lumps. Try not to over mix.
  • Evenly distribute the cake between the 3 pans. Carefully drop the cake pans on the counter to get out all air bubbles.
  • Bake for 20-25 mins until middle of the cake is completely done. Remove from oven and allow to completely cool before frosting.

Directions For Icing:

  • In a large bowl (stand kitchen mixer or handheld mixer is best for this) add cream cheese and butter and mix on medium speed for about 2-3 mins or until fully mixed.
  • Add cinnamon and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated.
  • Slowly beat in the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until you reach the desired thickness (stiff peaks). Set aside.
  • When cake is cooled, frost cakes, set aside and make caramel pecan topping.

Directions for Topping:

  • Over medium heat in a medium saucepan, add sugar and water stir to dissolve completely. Allow mixture to come up to a boil and turn down to a simmer.
  • Gently stir mixture to keep from burning. Cook mixture until it reaches an amber or honey color.
  • When it reaches this stage, add butter and mix until completely incorporated.
  • Remove from heat and add in heavy cream and whisk until completely combined.
  • Add pecans and vanilla, mix well, and set aside to cool.
  • Let cool for about 20 mins. When cooled, pour over top and allow it to run down the sides of the cake.


smores bread pudding sonata coconut creek

The tradition of making s’mores hearkens back to family camping trips and relaxing evenings around the campfire. At Sonata, our third-place winner blends the lovely, gooey texture of bread pudding with the nostalgia of family camping trips to offer our residents a Sonata-style s’mores tradition.

You’ll need oven-safe ramekins to make Sonata Senior Living Executive Chef Gaspard’s award-winning S’mores Bread Pudding recipe.


  • 8 cups loosely packed challah cubes (about 1 inch)
  • 2-1/2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/3 cup mini chocolate chips, plus more if desired
  • 1-1/3 cup mini marshmallows, plus more if desired
  • Unsalted butter, at room temperature, for buttering the ramekins
  • 4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs


  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Place the bread cubes into a large mixing bowl.
  • In a large measuring cup, whisk together the milk, cocoa powder and egg.
  • Pour the liquid mixture on top of the bread, then add the chocolate chips and marshmallows. Gently stir and make sure all the bread is covered with the liquid.
  • Butter two 16-ounce oven-safe ramekins. Add 1 tablespoon of graham cracker crumbs to each and tap them all around to coat the insides completely with crumbs.
  • Evenly divide the bread pudding mixture between the ramekins and top with more chocolate chips and marshmallows, if desired.
  • Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. If the marshmallows start to turn too brown during the baking process, you can lightly cover with foil.
  • Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Dining Services at Sonata Senior Living

The holidays are a wonderful time for friends and family to reconnect at Sonata Senior Living. Every holiday season, the executive chefs at Sonata Senior Living surprise and delight residents of our independent living and assisted living communities with tasty treats filled with holiday goodness. Our chefs recreate the nostalgia of the holidays with resort-style feasts for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, birthday parties and other special events and a registered dietician signs off on every menu for nutritional value.

In addition to our signature desserts, dining services at Sonata Senior Living communities feature a healthy and nutritious menu during the holidays and all year long. We integrate fresh Florida produce whenever possible to promote healthy aging  and a specialized dementia diet for residents of our memory care communities.

Please join us this holiday season to learn more about dining services at Sonata Senior Living or schedule a visit to a community near you.


Expect More At Sonata

Visit a Sonata community and find out why putting service first has allowed us to continually raise the bar in senior living and exceed our residents’ expectations.


move to senior living blog 2

Why the Holidays are the Best Time to Move to a Senior Living Community

The holidays are one of the best times of year to move into a senior living community. There’s usually a full lineup of activities and social gatherings on the calendar, giving you plenty of chances to jump into the fun, meet your neighbors and make new friends.

If you’re considering moving into an independent or senior living community, here are three reasons the holidays are a great time to make the switch.

1. Instant Community

For many, the holidays can be a lonely time of year. Especially if you live alone and don’t have any friends or family nearby.

Loneliness doesn’t just affect how you feel emotionally. It also affects your physical health. According to the National Council on Aging, feeling isolated from others can be as bad for your health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Scientists have found that the socialization opportunities provided by senior living communities can add years to one’s life by instilling a sense of purpose and belonging.

During the holidays, most senior and independent living communities offer a bustling schedule of themed parties, programming and events. It’s hard to feel lonely or bored when there’s so much to do — and so many new people to meet and friends to make.

2. Activities for Everyone

Many assisted living and independent living communities in Florida go out of their way to make sure their holiday events are inclusive and open to all. You may find activities like Christmas tree and menorah lightings, non-denominational group dinners, and fellowship gatherings. Some events are only for residents, others are open to residents and their families, and some welcome the entire neighborhood.

Events aren’t just limited to the community’s dining halls and meeting spaces. There are usually holiday-themed shopping and sightseeing excursions, as well as trips to plays, concerts and other local cultural events.

3. Winter in Florida

Florida has some of the best winter weather in the continental United States. While the rest of the country is strapping on their snowshoes, Floridians are usually enjoying sunny and warm weather. Average low temperatures in Miami rarely dip below the mid-60s in the winter, according to

Winter is also one of the driest times of year. In January, the average rainfall is less than 2 inches. That’s barely a fifth of what you see during the peak of the rainy season.

Independent living in Florida offers a full schedule of outdoor recreational activities and planned events during the mild winter months. The full holiday schedule will give you and your family plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to residents. You’re also less likely to feel pressured or singled out by the community’s sales team — everyone’s too busy celebrating the season.

To schedule a tour of one of Sonata Senior Living’s independent living, assisted living or memory care communities this holiday season, contact us today →

Download Your Guide To Healthy Aging & Longevity in Florida

Florida sunshine does more than just boost your Vitamin D levels. It can add years to your life! Find your personal path to good health and longevity in our FREE guide to Healthy Aging in Florida.


socializing at sonata

5 Ways Senior Living Communities Support Longevity

5 Ways Senior Living Supports Longevity

Productive engagement is the key to longevity, according to researchers at the Harvey A. Friedman Center for Aging at Washington University. That means older adults who stay connected, healthy, and secure can add many happy years to their lives.

A senior living community encompasses many types of senior care and housing options designed for older adults, including independent living, assisted living and memory care. They offer older adults much more than a place to live. Rather, senior living communities provide access to activities and opportunities to socialize and explore new interests, hobbies and passions while freeing one from the burden of home maintenance and chores. Ultimately, this leads to better health and longevity.

Here’s five important ways senior living communities support seniors in living better longer.

1. Stay Connected

There’s a scientific link between socialization and health. Social isolation isn’t good for anyone, but as we age, we’re more at risk. According to researchers at the University of Chicago’s Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, social isolation is associated with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • High blood pressure

Isolation can also lead to obesity and increase the chances of developing chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

A senior living community gives seniors instant access to a network of like-minded peers with common interests. Many seniors haven’t enjoyed this level of camaraderie since they were in the workforce or at school.

For example, Sonata East at Viera Independent Living near Kissimmee, Florida, offers a robust array of events, activities, and special interest groups that make it easy for residents to build relationships with their neighbors.

2. Slash Everyday Stress

Studies have shown that chronic stress weakens the immune system, increases the risk of infection, triggers inflammation, and speeds up the aging process. Many everyday activities like shopping, cleaning, doing laundry, preparing meals, and even driving across town become more stressful as we get older. Wouldn’t it be a relief to have a personal assistant?

The “concierge” aspect of a senior living facility is an important one. Everything is arranged for the residents—from meals to housekeeping to entertainment—so they can relax and enjoy the retirement they’ve earned.

A service-enriched independent living community like Sonata East at Viera features multiple dining venues, a bar and bistro, a theater, and a full-service salon and spa on campus, among other amenities. It’s the ultimate in relaxing, resort-style senior living in Florida.

3. Take an Interest

According to the National Institutes on Health, people who lead an active lifestyle doing things they enjoy are less likely to develop chronic disease and more likely to live longer.

A senior living community gives older adults many more opportunities to pursue activities and participate in events than would normally be available to them. From painting and dancing to piano lessons and bocce ball, many seniors thrive on picking up new hobbies later in life or returning to old passions.

Socially distanced activities in senior living keep older adults active and engaged to help combat cabin fever during coronavirus. Brain boosting activities and virtual events are also popular trends in senior living. They can take the form of mobile phone apps, puzzles, word search games, map drawing, or even exploring new places from the comfort of home.

Sonata communities offer an outlet to every senior for lifelong learning, hobbies, and activities such as:

  • Arts and crafts studio
  • Bocce ball court
  • Dog park
  • Walking path
  • Fitness classes
  • Heated pool
  • Educational seminars
  • Fully stocked fishing pond

We also arrange transportation and excursions to all the top senior-friendly activities in Central Florida, including theme parks, nature parks, boat tours, festivals, antiquing destinations and golf courses.

4. Eat Right—and Well

What if you could dine out every meal—and know in advance it would always be delicious, nutritious, and farm-to-table fresh? That’s what the dining experience is like at Sonata Senior Living independent and assisted living communities.

One of the biggest benefits of independent living in Florida is the abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, which have been shown to fuel a heart-healthy diet and reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, dementia, and cancer.

Sonata Senior Living offers residents nutritional counseling so they can participate fully in their own well-being and make choices that support good health and longevity.

Sonata’s personalized dementia-friendly diet plans are popular with those with progressive memory loss. It’s based around small, tasty, nutrient-packed bites served as finger-foods on a regular schedule.

5. Stop Worrying about What’s Next

Active independent living communities that offer assisted living and memory care give seniors the sense of security that a higher level of care is already taken care of if it is needed. Older adults can focus on living their best every day without being concerned about a health event turning their world upside down.

At Sonata East at Viera, we offer continuing care for a seamless transition from independent living apartments to assisted living and memory care if needs change.

To learn more about how Sonata Senior Living supports senior longevity, contact us today → or schedule a virtual tour →

Download Your Guide To Healthy Aging & Longevity in Florida

Florida sunshine does more than just boost your Vitamin D levels. It can add years to your life! Find your personal path to good health and longevity in our FREE guide to Healthy Aging in Florida.


iStock 484270398 virtual vacation small

Top 10 Tips For Combating Cabin Fever In Older Adults

Combat Cabin Fever in the Summer Heat

Let’s be honest. Summer in Florida is HOT. Older adults and, well, anyone who enjoys air conditioning, tend to spend a lot of time indoors during the summer in Florida to escape extreme heat.

While staying indoors and avoiding the heat is important, it can also be boring. As much as we want to avoid heat-related illness, we also don’t want to come down with a bad case of cabin fever.

As you may know, cabin fever isn’t a real health affliction. Instead, historians believe it’s a phrase that originated either in the early 1800s when America was dealing with a typhus outbreak or in the 1900s as a nickname for the boredom that accompanied long winters spent inside.

No matter its origin, “cabin fever” is a concept that Florida seniors may experience when shut indoors for long periods of time. Luckily, the diverse activities in senior living are one of the best ways to cure it.

To keep yourself safe from cabin fever this summer, we look to senior living experts’ TOP 10 TIPS for staying entertained and energized indoors.

Tip #1: Preserve Your Favorite Photos

Now is a great time to break out the shoeboxes and albums and get family photos organized. If you have a scanner, or even a phone with a camera, you can “digitize” your printed photos and send the files to friends and family. There are also several companies that offer a mail-in version of this service.

While looking through photos, find a few to frame (with supplies purchased online, of course). If you’ve spent the past six months indoors, refreshing your walls will provide a nice change of pace whether you live at home or in an active senior living community.

Tip #2: Make a Recipe Book

In addition to making digital photo albums, you can also create a cookbook of your favorite family recipes. If you’re comfortable on the computer, you can type the recipes in Google Docs or Microsoft Word and print them out.

Every family has a favorite recipe, so why not preserve them forever?

Ordering a professional printed cookbook online through a service such as or will capture your family’s culinary traditions for future generations. Plus, gifted cookbooks to friends and family who are also spending lots of time indoors will appreciate the new additions to their dinner routine.

Sonata West recently shared its Signature Orange Dreamsicle Cookie recipe in a live Facebook event so residents and their families could enjoy making them at home!

Tip #3: Enter a Competition or Contest

We may be stuck inside, but nobody can quarantine your creativity! Regardless of your age or ability level, online competitions and contests are a fun way to show off your talent or discover new interests.

Art lovers can show off their work in any number of international art competitions.

Get in touch with your inner author and submit a poem or nonfiction story in an online writing contest. Or share your hidden musical talents with the world and compete for cash in the Seniors Got Talent online competition.

Games in senior living communities are always a hit! Weekly cornhole toss and bowling competitions also keep things lively in the hallways!

Tip #4: Make Your Own Radio Station

Services like Spotify and Apple Music allow you to create playlists of your favorite songs and albums. You can create themed lists — like songs that were played at your prom or your favorite band’s top hits — to send to friends and family. It’s a great way to share a part of your life with the people you care about.

Sonata Senior Living believes in incorporating music wherever possible in residents’ lives. At Serenades by Sonata, individualized music taps the science behind music and memories to develop personalized playlists for residents.

Tip #5: Adopt a Shelter Pet

Pets provide hours of entertainment and companionship. Owning a pet can also lower blood pressure, ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improve the well-being of people suffering from chronic diseases.

Call your local shelter or check their website to find your new furry friend. Many shelters also offer reduced or waived adoption fees for older adults.

Sonata Senior Living’s independent living communities are pet-friendly and recognize the therapeutic benefits of pet ownership for older adults.

Tip #6: Read a Book (or Three)

One upside of the shelter-in-place recommendations? You finally have lots of time to read. The Guardian’s list of the best books of the 21st century will provide plenty of inspiration for your reading pleasure. If vision issues make reading difficult, you can also use a service like Audible to listen to audiobooks.

Many senior living communities offer book clubs so like-minded neighbors can share in their love for literature.

Tip #7: Plan a Vacation

Studies have shown that planning a trip can be almost as satisfying as taking one. Start writing down your bucket list destinations and itineraries now so that when the summer ends, you’re ready to start traveling right away.

Or, take a tip from Sonata’s life enrichment and programming experts and take a day trip right now, virtually, from the comfort of home.

Residents of Sonata Senior Living take frequent “virtual vacations” and day trips online.
Here’s a recent travel itinerary shared by Sonata West:






Tip #8: Travel the World

Nowadays, there are very few places you can’t travel to with a click of your mouse. From climbing the Great Wall of China to touring the Vatican, older adults can skip the crowds and take a trip to any destination from an electronic device.

Sonata Senior Living often hosts a World Travel Game, which offers a safe way for older adults to travel the world. We shares literature about exotic destinations and invite residents to share their personal photos of their travel experiences to be entered into a drawing for prizes.

Residents can also set sail on a virtual cruise!

Tip #9: Grow Something

Many older adults in Florida enjoy gardening indoors and away from the hot sun. Since many of us are doing more cooking than ever before, it’s a perfect time to grow an herb garden.

Even if you’ve never had a green thumb, new indoor smart gardens and garden kits make it easy for anyone to grow herbs, vegetables, microgreens and more!

While social distancing, Sonata Senior Living residents planted flowers and shared photos on Facebook to see whose blooms appeared first!

Tip #10: Attend Church

Older adults who are accustomed to attending services may be feeling a loss of community. For many, it is a regular way to stay connected to friends and family.

Fortunately, many congregations and groups meet for worship and religious instruction online in a virtual service.

Sonata Senior Living streams services on individual devices and helps residents participate in bible study groups using Zoom video conferencing.

Video conferencing tools are also used by Sonata’s lifestyle directors to keep residents connected to loved ones and family.

Need some more inspiration? To learn how Sonata Senior Living is keeping residents connected and engaged, contact us today → or schedule a virtual tour →

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Walking With The Dog

Pet Evacuation & Safety During Hurricanes

Pet Safety During Hurricanes

We depend on our pets for love and affection and in return they depend on us to take care of them. So, with hurricane season in full force, don’t forget to have your pet’s emergency preparedness kit ready, too.

Just like humans, pets need shelter from a storm. Thousands of animals have become lost or killed in the destructive wake of a natural disaster. Making arrangements early—long before disaster strikes—will help keep your pets safe from harm.

Leaving Pets During Hurricane Evacuation

If you plan to leave your home during a storm, even if you think you may be gone only for a few hours, it is important to take your pets with you.

Pets left behind often escape and, left to fend for themselves, become victims of exposure, starvation, predators, or contaminated food and water. According to the CDC, natural disasters also increase the transmission of some diseases.

If you evacuate and leave your pet at home, you may not be able to go back for your pet if the roads are blocked or flooded. Leaving dogs tied or chained outside during a hurricane could possibly result in their death.

Hurricane Preparedness Kit For Pets

Your pet should be wearing identification at all times with your phone number in case they become lost during a hurricane or in transit. You can purchase ID tags from virtually any large retailer.

Remember to bring these supplies with you if you evacuate with your pet.

Supply Checklist

  • Proper identification
  • Proof of vaccinations (required at shelters)
  • County license rabies tag
  • A carrier or portable kennel
  • Food and water
  • Can opened (for food)
  • Food and water bowls
  • Medications
  • Muzzle, collar and leash
  • Photo of pet
  • Favorite toys
  • Blanket or bed
  • Litter box, cat litter and scoop
  • Trash bags for pet waste

The CDC offers these recommendations for preparing a disaster kit for your pet.

Pet Shelters in Florida

According to, most shelters do not permit pets, but they do permit service animals.

Most Florida counties designate at least one pet-friendly shelter, but space is often limited and pre-registration is typically required.

Shelters and boarding facilities require current vaccination records, so be sure to keep extra copies with you at all times.

Click here for a sample Pet-Friendly Hurricane Evacuation Center Pre-Registration Form and list of required vaccinations.

If there are no shelters in your city that accept pets, or if they are all full, you will need to make other arrangements. In this case, it is best not to wait until the last minute.

Pet Friendly Hotels

The destruction and loss of life caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 inspired the federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, which requires government to include animals in their disaster planning. As a result of this legislation, many states have emergency plans that provide for the rescue and recovery of animals in post disaster distress.

Unfortunately, most plans do not dedicate adequate planning or resources to address the sheltering and accommodations people need for their pets in emergencies, and despite the good intentions of the legislation, hotels are not required to accept pets in a mandatory evacuation.

To prepare, disaster management officials suggest making a list of pet-friendly hotels at the start of hurricane season and keeping it handy.

If your evacuation plans include a hotel stay, call first to make sure your hotel is pet friendly.

Contact hotels in advance and ask about pet policies and restrictions on number of pets, size and species. Some hotels will waive the no pet policy during a hurricane evacuation, so ask about emergency exceptions.

If you need to find safe shelter for your pet, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recommends pet owners:

  • Call ahead for a hotel reservation as soon as you know you will evacuate – pet-friendly hotel rooms fill up fast
  • Ask friends and relatives if they would be able to shelter you and your pet
  • Create a list of boarding facilities and veterinary offices that shelter pets and start calling at the first signs of an approaching hurricane
  • Ask your local animal shelter if it provides shelter for pets in an emergency

Lost Pets Due to Hurricanes

One of the most important things you can do to protect your pet is to have it microchipped by a veterinarian.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if a stray animal is found and taken to a shelter, it will be scanned for a microchip. If you have microchipped your pet, it will be linked to a database with your contact information.

Should your pet become lost, check social media sites and call local shelters. Social media sites have assisted thousands of lost pets find their way home.

Tips For Finding Lost Pets During Hurricanes

  • Microchip: If your pet is chipped and it becomes lost, call your microchip company to make sure you contact information is updated.
  • Social Media: Post a photo of your missing pet in a local Facebook group (created specifically for lost pets in your area), on and your local lost and found.
  • Apps: New apps such as FindingRover can help locate a missing pet through facial recognition.
  • Shelters: Contact all area shelters and your local animal control to inquire about your lost pet. A list of shelters by state can be found at

If you pet becomes lost during a hurricane, many cities have pet staging sites for strays. Contact your county’s animal control or emergency management offices to inquire about a staging site near you.

The stress of a hurricane affects your pet emotionally and physically, so be sure to offer them lots of TLC before, during and after a storm.

To learn about Sonata Senior Living’s hurricane safety guidelines, contact us today or schedule a virtual tour.

Expect More At Sonata

Visit a Sonata community and find out why putting service first has allowed us to continually raise the bar in senior living and exceed our residents’ expectations.


Be a SonataStar

What Is A Sonata Star?

What Is A Sonata Star?

Stars are magical, glowing, twinkling, celestial spots of beauty that have inspired humans since the beginning of time. When you look into the night sky, there’s usually a star that shines brighter than the others. One that stands out from the rest. We call ours a Sonata Star.

Sonata Senior Living Core Values

From the start, Sonata was founded on the idea that care and service to our residents and families should be personalized and extraordinary. Today, this mindset is always manifest in our servant hearts and passion for serving seniors.

At Sonata, what motivates and unites our team members is a shared desire to enrich the lives of older adults. Each of us has given selflessly of ourselves to senior living. Many have gone above and beyond to serve residents with a heartfelt devotion rarely seen in the workplace. These are the stars that shine brightly at Sonata. These are the Sonata Stars.

Just as we admire luminosity in stars, a Sonata Star radiates positive energy and brightens the lives of Sonata’s residents, families, and team members. They have in some unique or special way exhibited the core values that are foundational to Sonata’s culture. They are, in short, deserving of recognition.

The shared characteristics a Sonata Star will possess is a demonstrated and genuine enthusiasm for Service, Teamwork, and Respect (the STAR in our Sonata Stars).

  • Service – A Sonata Star actively seeks way of exceeding expectations by placing customer service at the center of everything they do. They never stop at “good enough” and challenge themselves and others to provide outstanding service to everyone at all times.
  • Teamwork – A Sonata Star is unstinting about coordinating and communicating to assure the sum of their efforts is greater than the parts. They give selflessly for the greater good.
  • Respect – A Sonata Star believes that every individual, without exception, deserves respect and is treated with dignity in an environment of safety, security, and supportive understanding.

Demonstrated integrity and passion in team members are also qualities that align with Sonata’s core values and are recognized in a Sonata Star with equal zest.

Sonata Star vs Celestial Star Qualities

Stars have been essential to humans since the beginning of time. They helped our ancestors measure time, make discoveries, and chart a safer course.

Much like a Sonata Star leads others by example, constellations would light up the night sky, guiding sailors in search of new worlds. Because they are considered lucky, to this day, people make a wish when they see a shooting star. Many believe astrological signs have influence over our destiny. And scientists continue to research how we might harvest stars as an energy source.

While they may look small, most stars are in fact larger than earth, like the impact a Sonata Star makes on all those around them. Sometimes, star clusters form by gravitational forces that bind them together. That happens at Sonata Senior Living, too. When one Sonata Star is formed, others sit up and notice, attracting similar energies focused on improving quality of life for seniors.

Among scientists, stars are known as the building blocks of galaxies. We feel that way about Sonata Stars. Great cultures are formed and sustained not by the skills of individual members, but by between members working toward one shared goal. Explore the stars in our universe using the Hubble Space Telescope.

Together, our Sonata Stars form the building blocks of a culture that rewards and celebrates those most true to our core values. Discover the Sonata Stars that make living and working at Sonata Senior Living both a privilege and a joy.

Expect More At Sonata

Visit a Sonata community and find out why putting service first has allowed us to continually raise the bar in senior living and exceed our residents’ expectations.


sonata news release cropped

Sonata Senior Living Announces Reorganization

Sonata Senior Living Announces Reorganization with Dual Operational Strength

ORLANDO, FL—July 5, 2022—Orlando-based Sonata Senior Living has announced a corporate reorganization plan to position the company for future growth and expansion.

As part of the plan, Co-Founder, Former President, and CEO Stuart Beebe has been named Managing Partner of Sonata Senior Living. Co-Founder and Former COO Shelley Esden has assumed the role of President and CEO, effective immediately.

Reorganization at Sonata assures operational excellence across the development and management company’s senior living portfolio, while promoting rapid expansion with successful execution.

“Shelley has played a pivotal role in the expansion of Sonata’s footprint throughout Central and South Florida,” said Beebe. “This reorganization emphasizes operational excellence at the top and will position Sonata for accelerated growth and value creation for our partners.”

In her new role, Esden will focus on exploring growth opportunities and oversee all strategic initiatives related to product and service innovation in senior living.

“I am excited to continue building Sonata’s legacy as an industry leader and innovator while embarking upon this next phase of growth,” added Esden. “Stuart and I have carefully planned this transition by strengthening Sonata’s expertise in operations with the addition of a like-minded, top-performing industry leader.”

Jamie Merrill will succeed Esden as Sonata’s COO. Merrill arrives at Sonata from Brookdale Senior Living, where she compiled a record of success as VP of Operations for 72 senior living communities across Florida. Merrill was also named a 2022 McKnight’s Woman of Distinction.

At Sonata, Merrill’s top priorities will be to steward the company’s service-oriented culture and develop leadership to support sustained growth at a level of high performance.

“Jamie will help Sonata embrace innovation and leverage operational best practices to ensure Sonata’s high standards of service and care are sustained during this next phase of accelerated growth,” said Esden of her successor.

Esden added, “The future is bright for Sonata and our partners. With the demand for housing and quality operators on the rise, Sonata’s new, dual operational strength in leadership roles combined with Sonata’s ability to provide ongoing exceptional services while maximizing ROI for investors is a perfect alignment for partners.”

About Sonata Senior Living

Sonata Senior Living is a regional owner, developer, and operator of independent living, assisted living, and memory care communities. Founded in 2008, Sonata currently operates over 1,090 units throughout Florida. The tenured Sonata team has earned a longstanding reputation as a trusted and proven provider of new development and turnaround acquisitions. Recipients of multiple Argentum Best of Best Awards, innovation, and service awards, Sonata’s pursuit of service excellence, unwavering commitment to its core values, and investment in top talent have made Sonata a provider of choice.

For more information about Sonata’s management or development services,
visit or call Shelley Esden at 407-286-6490.

Stuart Beebe

Stuart Beebe, Co-Founder and Managing Partner

Shelley Esden CEO

Shelley Esden, Co-Founder, President and CEO

Jamie Merrill Resized

Jamie Merrill, COO
Sonata Senior Living

02/09/2020 Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK The word health spelled out on scrabble tiles on a scrabble board

How Games Help Senior Health

How Games Help Senior Health

If there is one thing we do well in Florida, it’s to have fun. It’s one of many reasons why Florida retirement communities offer everything from physical activities like pickleball, water aerobics and golf to group games and activities for virtually any age and ability level.

The Impact of Games on Senior Health

Florida senior living is about healthy aging, and games are at the heart of that endeavor. At Sonata Senior Living, we see games as an opportunity to socialize, prevent loneliness, and improve longevity, among other benefits. That’s because the physiological act of play is vital to relieving stress, reducing depression and anxiety, improving cognition, and most importantly, connecting with other people.

How Learning New Skills Keeps You Sharp

Any form of social interaction will yield positive emotional and physical results, according to scientists. That’s not all! The research also shows that learning new games can significantly improve cognitive ability.

Challenging your brain leads to higher mental functioning. In fact, one study found that older adults who interacted with people beyond their usual social circle of family and close friends were more likely to have higher levels of physical activity and fewer negative feelings.

In a retirement community like Sonata Senior Living, the opportunities for learning new skills while forming new friendships are extraordinary. We examined a few of the more popular games at our independent living and assisted living communities to see how they engage the mind and body.

Brain-Boosting Games For Seniors

Using your brain, laughing, and socializing all contribute to health and cognition. Laughter enhances the immune system, relieves stress and pain, and improves mood. There is some evidence to suggest that brain activity and positivity can also delay or have a preventative effect on dementia.

Card games and trivia are very popular activities in senior living communities:

  • Trivia: Trivia is a type of game in which players, either individually or on a team, are asked questions about different topics, and they must get as many correct answers as possible.
  • Mahjong: A classic Chinese game played with 136 or 144 rectangular pieces called tiles. The objective is to collect winning sets of these tiles.
  • Rummikub: Players take turns placing numbered tiles in runs or groups. Similar to Rummy, the first player to use all of their tiles wins.
  • Hand Knee and Foot: A card game where each player is dealt two sets of cards – the hand, which is played first, and the foot, which is played when the hand has been used up.
  • Lucky 7: Lucky 7 is a fast completive game of solitaire played with coasters.

Senior Games For Social Engagement

Social interaction and engagement are a byproduct of almost any game. But complex games that require more attention may not encourage as much conversation.

Some games never get old. These classic games have been around for years, and for a good reason. Games that can be played on a table, aka “tabletop games,” are fun for everyone and promote group interaction and socialization.

  • Bingo: A game in which players mark off numbers on cards as the numbers are drawn randomly. The winner is the first person to mark off five numbers in a row.
  • Dominos: The object of dominoes is to score the most points by putting your tiles down in the most strategic way.
  • Scrabble: A board-and-tile game in which two to four players compete in forming words with lettered tiles on a 225-square board.
  • Puzzles: Individual pieces are joined together to form an image and offer a great way to engage and relax simultaneously. Puzzles can be adapted to accommodate an individual’s cognitive ability.

Senior Games For Mind and Body

Exercise is vital to healthy aging and longevity. It is the key to remaining active and independent as we age.

There are many reasons why Florida is the retirement capital of the world. Outdoor games are ideal for Florida’s year-round warm weather and sunny disposition.

In retirement communities, we love games that move the body and engage the mind while promoting balance, flexibility, and eye-hand coordination.

  • Wii Bowling: A fun video game where you use a controller to mimic the action of bowling.
  • Drum Fit: A fast, fun way to get mild cardio using hand-eye coordination. Participants sit and use drumsticks on exercise balls, drumming to songs.
  • Lawn Bowling: Not quite as active as indoor bowling, lawn bowling in perfect for those with limited mobility who still want to enjoy Florida’s outdoor lifestyle.
  • Pickleball: A popular sport in Florida that combines elements of ping-pong, badminton and tennis, without requiring as much strength as regular tennis.

Responding to the popularity of Florida’s growing pickleball community, Sonata Lake Mary residents will enjoy a new state-of-the-art pickleball court with no membership required!

Senior Games For Mind and Mouth

In senior living, food is so much more than a means to better health and nutrition. It is fundamental to comfort, socialization, and satisfaction of older adults. In short, food makes us happy.

It’s no wonder games and social events tend to be more enjoyable whenever food it involved. People of all ages love food. Plus, food gives us more energy to carry on having more fun!

More “activity” than “game,” these activities at Sonata Senior Living engage the senses while stimulating the mind.

  • Armchair Travel: An opportunity to learn about exotic destinations while enjoying the native foods, music and culture of the chosen country.
  • Painting with a Twist: Residents enjoy a group painting lesson where you sip a beverage or cocktail of your choice.
  • Chopstick Challenge: Racing against the clock, players must transfer the items from their food bowl to the empty bowl by using the chopsticks. The player who does this first is the winner.

Sonata Senior Living: Your Gateway to Health and Life-Enrichment

When it comes to fun, Sonata Senior Living in Florida has you covered with variety and engagement built into our lifestyles programing. Life enrichment activities incorporate games designed to stimulate the mind and body while promoting socialization, independence, health and happiness.

Schedule a visit or call to learn more about life enrichment activities at Sonata Senior Living.


Visit Sonata Senior Living and find out how personalized programming in assisted living promotes independence and well-being.