Building Connections Through Retirement Communities

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va retirement resident couple alzheimers careJeanne and Karl Kaffenberger spent their entire lives building connections to their community. They’ve been married for 63 years, had four children together and lived in their house in Greenby, Ct. for 50 years.

However, the Kaffenbergers are not at all resistant to the inevitable change that comes with age. When asked how she adapted to living in a new situation, Jeanne cited her attitude as a big factor in her happiness.

“Situations change, and we all have to change with it,” she said. “You can make yourself happy or unhappy-I prefer to be happy.”

When they moved into Kensington Park Retirement Community about January 2006, they immediately began to forge new relationships within their new living arrangements. Kensington Park offers Independent Living, Assisted Living, and Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care, in three Victorian-Styled residences.

“When you move into a situation like this, you’re back in a community,” Jeanne said. “It has all the attributes of a good neighborhood.”

According to the Kaffenberger’s, their decision to move was not a need-based one. In fact, the move was made with the goal of remaining independent while being connected to a network. When asked if she had any advice for those seeking senior living options, Jeanne advised seniors to take action before it’s absolutely necessary.

“Make decisions before you’re forced into them,” she said. “Don’t wait until you lose control.”

Karl graduated with honors from Brown University in 1939. He and Jeanne met through Karl’s sister, who was Jeanne’s friend and set them up on a blind date. They hit it off, and were married 10 months later in 1943, shortly before Karl served in the United States Air Force as an aviation cadet in World War II. He flew fighter planes back and forth between factories and other shipping points, delivering passengers and cargo. Jeanne was involved with a blood bank for many years before and after his military service.

“She was Mrs. Bloodbank,” said Karl, laughing. During his career, Karl was involved with the Episcopal Church, the YMCA board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Grandby land trust. In 1956 the couple was one of 75 families who paid $100 each to found The Grandby Tennis Club, which Jeanne said is still “thriving” today.

“It’s similar to how it was back then,” she said. “The integrity had to be maintained.”

After the war, Karl started up his own real estate appraisal business, and Jeanne worked for Betty, her husband’s secretary in the office. He retired in 1993 at age 75.

When the couple decided to move out of their home in 1997, several factors weighed into their decision. The yard work was hard to maintain, the weather had been bad in recent years and frequent power outages left the couple in the dark.

“Somebody sneezed and the power went out,” said Jeanne.

At first, they moved to an apartment complex in Reston, Va. to be closer to their daughter Jan, who lives in Northwest Washington, D.C. However, the two quickly became dismayed by the transient nature of the people who lived there.

“The community in Reston wasn’t a good match for us because the people were temporary,” Karl said. “It was people who were in transition.

After Jeanne had a heart attack during her family’s vacation in Cape Cod, Mass., she knew it was time to consider other living options. When back in Reston, she said she was plagued by thoughts about what would happen if she or her husband were to have a health emergency.

“I kept on thinking, we don’t really know anybody around here, or what if something happens in the middle of the night,” she said. “Moving into a retirement community relieves your children tremendously.”

The couple said the actual transition to Kensington Park Retirement Community wasn’t as hard as they imagined because they had already given away furniture when moving to the Reston apartment complex. Jeanne has a minimalist view about moving and downsizing.

“Our house was a building – you make your home where you are,” she said. “Stuff is stuff, and we were not going to drag everything we owned with us.”

Now that the two have been situated in their new home for about 8 months, they said they couldn’t be more pleased with how things turned out.

“You’ll never have to know another electrician, a plumber, a painter,” said Jeanne. “All those guys who served you well as a homeowner are somebody else’s problem!”

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