An Early Look at Retirement

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At 43, Steve Gurney spent a week in a retirement community and was surprised by what he found. As told to Mary Beth Franklin

Why did you make the move? During my 20 years publishing the Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook (, I’ve visited more than 500 communities. But I felt I didn’t understand what it was like to be a resident. I wanted to experience moving into a retirement home so I could help my readers prepare themselves and make more-informed choices.

Were there any surprises? Lots of them. As I walked through my house deciding what I would take into a one-bedroom apartment and what I would leave behind, I realized how my memories were tied to my belongings. I felt a bit of the loss that elders must feel when they have to cull a lifetime of possessions.

What about costs? It really hit home that my monthly rent, including dining and housekeeping services, would be more than the mortgage payment on my four-bedroom house. At the retirement community I moved into, rates range from $2,700 to $4,000 a month for independent living and up to $6,300 a month for assisted living.

What was the hardest part? Adjusting to a new environment. Just like being the new kid at school, it was a bit unnerving at first to decide where to sit at dinner. Some of the residents who volunteer to help newcomers transition invited me to join them in the dining room.

What was the best part? The people. Many of them have lived fascinating lives, and I’d often get an interesting nugget of information or a history lesson from someone who actually experienced an event.

How has the experience changed you? I learned to slow down. One day I went with a group to visit a museum and I did something I had never done before: I read every single word at the exhibit. Although it seems as though the sky is falling these days, an exhibit on the Civil War reminded me that our country has overcome much worse challenges. It helped put today’s bad news in perspective.

What’s next? I hope to repeat the project in other types of communities, including a nursing home and an Alzheimer’s facility.

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