• Life Transitions

    Posted on March 10th, 2009

    Written by Jaimie


    Experience the Transition to a Retirement Community

    The transition to a retirement community, like an assisted living or possibly a nursing home, is a challenge that so many families and individuals face. Families may come to the decision that a move is the best option for many reasons. Coming to that decision can be one of the most difficult pieces. Another difficult piece to this every complex puzzle, is how it is like to transition and live in a new community.

    Put yourself in these old shoes!

    Let’s say you are 88 and you have lived in your farm house for 50 years. For the past 15 years you have lived there alone, after your spouse passed away. Now, you are moving to an assisted living facility. You will have three rooms; a bedroom, living room and kitchen. You know no one in the facility you are moving too. Part of the decision to move was based on your children’s concern that you may reach a point when you need extra care. Although you can take good care of yourself you do see the benefit of having some meals cooked for you, and other activities available at your finger tips. Also, you want to make your children happy.

    Is it comparable to other life transitions?

    Do we as professionals truly understand how it is to make this type of move. We may have done it ourselves when we went to college, particularly if you moved into the dorms and lived away from your family on campus. You had to make a transition, that others your age were also going through. Maybe an upper class-man helped you find a classroom when you were lost, or offer suggestions for the best bar close to campus. Now, you are 88 and moving again into a community of those your age and in very similar situations as you. Maybe your new neighbor who has lived there for 5 years reminds you that it is dinner time and helps you find the dining hall by walking with you. Then, someone you met at bingo suggested you attend the movie nights, because she is in charge of the movie committee and guarantees the flick will be good.

    Are these experiences similar? I would argue that they do share a lot of similarities, but there is a very big piece that is different for the 88 year old. At 88 you have experienced so much more than when you were 19 going to college. You raised a family, established yourself in a career, and perhaps can even found out who you are in the process. At 19 you may have been on a self discovery path, but at 88 could you still going down that same path? These are some interesting questions, that may help us as geriatric professionals truly understand this transition.

    Can we REALLY understand this experience?

    Steve Gurney, age 43 and author of Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook, a resource that provides families with detail regarding senior living options, is now living this very transition. He has moved into an assisted living facility, and is now journaling his experience. His focus is on his emotions regarding this hard transition.

    This sounds like a very interesting and excited experience to put yourself through as a professional. It is the ultimate, “walk in their shoes” type of project. However, Gurney is 43, he is not 88. He has not necessarily had the full life experience many of the residents in these facilities have had. He may not have the physical disabilities many residents have, or the constant concern that his memory is going bad. There may be some benefits to noting the transition into a community that you are new to. However to improve our professional understanding of this type of transition, perhaps it is better to ask ‘real’ new residents to journal their own emotions and experiences as they make this transition. Hhere are some notable differences between what Gurney is experiencing and what real residents may go through…

    • Gurney choose to go into this facility- many others have had the influenced of their family make this decision.
    • Gurney can leave and go back to his four bedroom house, other residents may permanently downsized never to see many of their belongings again, also some may feel this is where they will inevitability die.
    • Many residents may feel abandoned by their family, yet Gurney is at the age where he can raise a family, and meet his grandkids.
    I am definitely going to keep my eyes on this project. What are your thoughts?

    Read more about Steve Gurney’s project at 43 year old in retirement community.


    Picture courtesy of Zsuzsanna Schreck. View more of her photos at Rocketcat.blogspot

    This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 at 4:33 pm and is filed under Life Transitions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    Take a look at some of the responses we have had to this article.

    1. Carol
      Dec 8th

      My 85 year-old mother recently moved into the independent wing of a small retirement community following the death of my dad one year ago. She didn’t want to move, but had become dellusional about people coming into the house and finally asked me to “get me out of here.” She is miserable. She feel she is in prison without her car (she really shouldn’t be driving) and her routine. It’s only been three weeks, but her sadness at her situation is breaking my heart. I almost want to take her back home, but I know she’s not safe on her own. It’s terrible feeling like there is no solution.

    2. Jaimie
      Dec 8th

      Hi Carol, I am very sorry to hear of the loss of your father and the changes your mother is going through.

      It sounds like your mom is going through a really tough transition in her life. She has experienced a lot of loss including her home, car, husband, and community.

      You also mentioned some delusional thinking which could be a sign of a medical problem for older adults. It would be best that she is evaluated by a Geriatrician to ensure there is not an underlying medical cause for the delusional thinking. Also a medical problem could be playing a role in her difficulty transitioning.

      Your mom might also benefit from counseling to work through her loss and grief she is experiencing. The staff at the retirement community might be able to help get a referral to a counselor to help with her transition. Perhaps someone could even meet with her in her new home.

      It will be important to build support for your mom and for you during this transition. A professional skilled to provide this support could be a Geriatric Care Manager. You can learn more about this service and find one near you at http://www.caremanager.org.

      I hope that soon your mom’s pain lessens and she feels more comfortable in her new home.

      Take Care,
      Jaimie Robinson, LCSW

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