An Overview of the 43 year old retirement community resident project
If you are new to this blog and my project, I put together a “cliff notes” version to get you up to speed.
Video that describes my vision for the project
Preadmission paperwork and screening
Although I didn’t actually move my furnishings in with me, I went through the process of selecting what I would take and the challenges of dealing with the remaining items. I have several posts that discuss this process.
Here is a video that walks you through my house and discusses what will move with me
My new home
An exhausting first day transition (includes video)
Here is a video shot in the shower of my apartment!
Essay on what I learned
I have been intimately involved with senior living communities and services for the last 20 years as the founder and publisher of Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook. In my career I have visited well over 500 communities, had the opportunity to interview and personally help hundreds of individuals, families, and friends who are making choices. This breadth of experience has given me the title of “expert” in the field of aging.
While I know more about these options than most, I had never experienced what its like to move into one first hand. I began to ponder how I could truly be an “expert” without that important perspective.
I shared my idea with the management of Paul Spring Retirement Community, an independent and assisted living community in Alexandria, VA. I was pleased that although I was technically not yet a “senior” that I would be able to live as a guest for a week in the community.
I wanted the primary focus of my move to be fully experiencing the feelings and emotions that one goes through in making the transition from a home they are familiar with, to one that is unfamiliar. In an effort to immerse myself in the experience I would not have contact with my family, work or have a car in the parking lot.
Gaining a new perspective
The journey began over a month before I was going to make the move. I arrived at Paul Spring to complete the same paperwork and procedures that all new residents complete. Although I was intimately familiar with this procedure, I had never filled out my own name of the application or had seen it from this perspective. I was struck with how much I had detached myself from the overwhelming feelings of going through the process. During this visit I was also taken to my apartment, which I had seen hundreds of times before. However, I had never visualized myself living in any of the apartments until now which only helped illustrate my detachment from the process.
Discovering the challenges of downsizing
I returned home to my 4 bedroom house, armed with the floor plan to the 1 bedroom apartment I would be moving to. Although I would not be moving my possessions, I wanted to experience the process first hand. I methodically went through each room and created an inventory of the possessions in our house. I would only be able to take about 13 items of furniture, which would mean I needed to figure out what to do with the hundreds of items that wouldn’t be going with me. The first lesson I learned was that I have a lot of “stuff”! However, the items I would be taking with me are the items that get used on a daily basis. Many times people comment about how small senior living apartments might be, I feel the problem is that we may be living too “large”. The second lesson I learned was how attached I am to seemingly impractical possessions. I learned how this connection is tied to the memories associated with those possessions. My solution is to take photos and video of these items and preserve their memories!
Even though had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this day, I was struck with how exhausting and overwhelming it was to step into an unfamiliar and new environment. Prior to this move most of my “purpose” in life was tied to my family and my job. Now that these were “gone”, I needed to find new purpose. Fortunately the community offered a robust calendar of activities that I could participate in. It made me feel good that I had a place to be and something to do.
My new purpose of participating in activities led me to the best thing about senior living communities, which is the wonderful people that live there. The more people I met, the more stories I heard, the more I learned, and the more I felt part of the community.
The stigma of aging
Let’s face it; the stigma of aging and senior living communities is generally not a positive one. I fully expected that I might walk away from this experience saying something like, “now I know why people don’t want to move to senior living communities.” I am pleased (and a little surprised) that it’s not the case at all. If there is one element that I could improve, it would be to integrate younger able-bodied residents into communities. I saw first-hand the benefits to being part of a community for “people”, not “older people” or “people with disabilities”.
Neighbors that care about each other
I experienced something that I never realized in all of my visits to senior living residences. I saw just how much the residents care about and care for each other. Don’t get me wrong, staff is very important in these communities, but its amazing at how much the residents help each other out whether or not staff is around for assistance or not.
I was excited to see my family again when I returned home to my “idyllic suburban neighborhood”. However, I was struck with how lonely and isolated I felt. I had been living in a neighborhood where I had close proximity to things I needed, most importantly easy access to interesting neighbors that truly cared about each other. I guess I expected to find some flaws in retirement living with my project, but I think I found more flaws in the modern suburban neighborhood and the way I am living my life right now.
I have lots more lessons and insights that I gained from this experience, I was able to synthesize my thoughts about the experience into what I call the 8 Ps of making a transition. These include: Perspective, Purpose, People, Positive Attitude, Pricing, Possessions, Proximity and Power