By Christine Forget
THERE are a number of factors and reasons why seniors move into a retirement community. From our experience, it can range from wanting to downsize to a carefree lifestyle, to those who may not want to move, but have to move.
People requiring a more supportive lifestyle may be resistant for a number of reasons. First, home is truly where the heart is; it is a place of familiarity, comfort, pride, accomplishment, family and maybe control. Because of this, pretty much all of us want to age at home. For others, home could be more fluid; where the homestead was once a 3500 sq.ft. home and has been downsized to a condo. No matter where the home is, it is a place of familiarity, comfort and people feel a sense of control over their independence. For some, a retirement community can represent such a change in that paradigm that this can bring on an onslaught of emotions and anxieties that usually stem from fears of the unknown.
What is the Unknown?
In regards to moving to a retirement residence, there are some obvious reasons why people are reluctant or even resistant to the idea. As we’ve mentioned earlier, many feel it is the place where ‘all the old people are’. Others fear the overall adjustment of fitting in, that no one will like them or they will have no one to talk to. Although these are older adults, there is much fear about being ‘the new kid on the block’, or in this case, the retirement community. For example, I have heard many times that ‘everyone here is old’, even though the person making those observations is older than the oldest person in the room. I have also heard ‘there will be no one to talk to’ or ‘what if no one likes me?’ You can see the common thread, and I think that no matter how old we are, we all want to fit in. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge all the said and unsaid fears and anxieties surrounding the move. There are a few steps that I’d recommend to make sure everything goes smoothly:
1 – Visit the residence a couple of times before you move to get familiar with the surroundings. If this is not possible then maybe the residence will have representatives who can come to visit you in your home or in the hospital, or they can offer a virtual tour. Knowing a few people before you make the move will help alleviate some of those anxieties. As a family member, it is important to ensure you maintain advocacy with the retirement community and speak up during this transition to ensure that all your expectations are met.
2 – The days leading up to the move will be exceptionally busy and can bring on much anxiety for the senior moving, especially if they are experiencing some physical or cognitive decline. It’s important to ensure they’re involved in as many decisions and processes as possible (such as packing etc.) It is also equally as important to remember to have patience during this emotional time. Going into this experience expecting that it might take a bit more time than those going through a regular move, is key. There will be an overwhelming amount of emotions involved, so be prepared and take all the time needed. Also, seek out and ask for help. There are many local businesses that offer professional downsizing services for seniors. Their role is not only to help pack and move, but also to provide guidance and support throughout the process. They can also conveniently dispose, donate and sell any items not coming with you. Obtaining these services can definitely make a difference and ease some stresses and worries.
3 – Keep the lines of communication flowing with the retirement community the days before and right up to the day of the move. Get a checklist and ensure all the conversations are had and all expectations are discussed. Don’t expect the community to read your mind. Although it would be ideal to think that all retirement communities can ensure that the first day and the days after are successful for the seniors’ transition, unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. Be proactive in doing what you can to ensure as smooth a transition as possible.
4 – Engage a professional move-in / settle-in companion who can be there the first few days to help ease the anxiety and facilitate new relationships. This person’s entire purpose is to ease any fears and anxieties and make those first few days easier. They can be there to help with orientation to the community, by participating in activities and accompanying the senior to the dining room etc. All to help foster new friendships for the senior. They can also advocate and be that communication link between the community and family to ensure that all the expectations are being met.
5 – One important task that you can take to ensure that no issues stew over time is to request a care conference about a month following the move in. This is especially important to those who require any assistance, on an assisted living or memory care program. Simply put, you want to have a meeting with the key departmental managers and just check in and review what was expected, what has been happening with them, and how they are doing. Bring any issues to this meeting and resolve any complaints. This is a time to put it all on the table and move forward together with an action plan. If this meeting is not offered, request it.