A New York Times article regarding one couple’s discussions about moving to a retirement home brought back memories of my own parents’ ongoing dialog. My folks were in their mid-eighties, still healthy and active, but their three-bedroom home on a Florida lakeshore was becoming a burden. After a lifetime of shopping for groceries, planning and preparing meals, my mother had run out of steam. More important, she was feeling increasingly isolated and lonely. Her friends were either dead or living out their final days in nursing homes with dementia. My stepfather, of course, was completely comfortable having my mother cook and care for him. The subject of time to move to a retirement home was not something he entertained.
I don’t remember the catalyst, but they finally put their house on the market
My folks finally sold their house and moved to a retirement community overlooking a little lake. They had their own little unit, with a provision to move to assisted care and the nursing facility when/if it became necessary. My mother was thrilled. A very social person, she immediately made friends, played bridge three-four times/week, helped out in the library one day each week. There was always something going on and the staff were wonderful. My mother had cooked her last meal. This was exactly where she needed to be at this point in her life.
In the Times article, John and Dawn Strumsky had the same debate as my folks did. Dawn’s ready to pack it in. After a lifetime of caring for others, it’s time to be a “princess”, unburdened by the demands of cooking, cleaning and gardening. Her husband hated the idea of a leaving their longtime home and being surrounded by a bunch of strangers—a bunch of old strangers. He finally relented and they moved to a senior community outside Baltimore. He learned to embrace his new environment and subsequently wrote a 365-page history of the facility that they use in their marketing.
Dealing with seniors’ resistance to moving to a retirement home: It’s a journey
Seniors fear giving up their independence. It’s difficult to leave the home where they’ve raised their families. They don’t like confronting their own mortality. The key to convincing a parent to move to a retirement community is to be patient, said Tom Neubauer, executive vice president at Erickson Living, which operates 19 retirement communities. “Inherently there’s a sense of denial, particularly as it relates to aging, and you’re trying to defeat that.”He likened the process to helping a high school student choose a college: “You can’t just hand them a brochure and say, ‘This is where you’re going.’ It’s a journey.”
Neubauer’s strategy was to get his mother to recognize that the stairs in her house were steep, that cold weather affected her ability to get out and do things. That she was limiting herself because she wasn’t driving at night. It ended up being very easy. Collectively, all of these arguments persuaded his mother that it was time to move.
Go for a visit; stay for a meal or an overnight
Experts advise visiting retirement communities and trying to get a feel for what the experience would be like. Meet the residents, talk to the staff, stay for a meal. Some facilities will allow potential residents to spend a few nights.
Specialists in senior moving help seniors recreate their lives in smaller environments
We all love our stuff. Seniors may have spent decades in the same home, and it can be very difficult to leave all that is comfortable and familiar. A cottage industry of specialists in senior moving has sprung up, and the National Association of Senior Move Managers has more than 1,000 members.
These consultants do more than move boxes. They create digital floor plans to show clients how everything will look and fit in a smaller environment. They’ll ship leftover items to relatives or to auctions. As much as possible, they recreate the old space to make the transition as seamless as possible.
My folks lived in their retirement community for nearly ten years
As with many seniors, a health crisis necessitated my parents’ move into assisted living, then nursing care. They both died there within six months of each other. My mom was 94. In the end, we enlisted the support of Hospice, and the women who cared for her were wonderful. I think of my mom so often, and it’s generally while she was surrounded by her many friends in that retirement community where she happily lived out the last decade of her life.
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