The Seven “P’s” of making a transition
It’s certainly been a while since I have posted. I haven’t stopped thinking about my experience and its amazing how I often I reference my experience in my daily life. I have summarized the things I learned from this experience into the “Seven P’s of making the transition to in a Senior Community.”
I was shocked at how different it was to view a retirement community from the perspective of a resident compared to my previous role as an advisor, family member or visitor. From the moment that I began to complete my application with my own name, I was struck with how I had detached myself from the process when I was helping others. I have toured hundreds of apartments in my career, but I had never actually visualized myself living in any of them with my own furniture and possessions.
Idea: If you have a loved one making this transition, try to take steps to put yourself in their shoes in as many situations as possible. This might be completing the applications and paperwork alongside them or offering to stay with them in the community for the first night.
I intentionally separated myself from my primary ‘purposes’ of family and work along with my communication tools in making this move. Right out of the gate I was struck with the feeling of loss and being in ‘limbo’ in this new and different environment. At the end of my first day in the community, I was completely exhausted. However, my exhaustion was not due to the volume of activity in which I was engaged. Instead, I felt it was due to the challenge of redefining myself and seeking new purpose in life; this is not easy! I gravitated to anything that could get me on a schedule and fortunately there were several planned activities for me to attend each day. I realized how much of my purpose is defined by helping others. In most retirement communities, there are many people and services designed to help the residents which makes defining your new purpose even more challenging.
Idea: Offer to serve as a ‘guide’ to loved ones during this transition time. Revisit interests, hobbies and passions. Work with the community to identify other residents with similar interests. Find ways that your loved ones can help others such as reading to children, helping other residents, or sharing knowledge on a topic they are passionate about. If there is one suggestion that I have for the senior housing industry, it would be to work harder to integrate the wisdom of these communities into youth groups, schools and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Attending the scheduled events gave me a purpose, but the real benefit to participating in the events was being able to meet the people living in this community. Meeting the other residents and hearing their personal stories was more entertaining and rewarding than any of the actual activities in which I was participating. The more people I met, the more I began to feel a part of the community. I did not view the other residents as ‘old people’ or ‘people with disabilities,’ I simply viewed them as my neighbors.
Idea: When I reflect on my college years, it makes me realize that I have very few memories of the physical aspects of college like my dorm room or the food. My memories are almost exclusively centered on my time with my fellow students and professors. When selecting a retirement community, remember that it is the people living within the walls and not the actual walls that are the most important element. Better yet think of it as though you are moving to a college instead of a senior living option!
I developed a keen awareness of how much one gives up when making a transition like this. It is easy to see how I could slip into a very negative frame of mind during this transition. Since I only had a short period of time to immerse myself as a resident in the community, it did not give me the luxury to slowly integrate myself. This small window of opportunity made it important for me to maintain a positive attitude to meet as many people as possible and experience all the offerings of the community. Having a positive attitude made it easier for me to meet other residents and feel more a part of the community. There were many elements I was giving up in making this move, but the power of a positive attitude made those elements seem less important and significant.
Idea: Many times the transition to senior living is prompted by health, mobility or other factors. The residents may not feel like this is their choice and they view it as a transition where they are giving up many elements of their lifestyle. Starting this transition on the ‘wrong foot’ can easily lead to a downward slide that strives to validate that this is not a good decision. We need to be there for our loved ones to help them start this journey on the ‘right foot’ and allow them to see the benefits that are achieved by taking on a positive attitude.
Throughout my entire career, I have been conducting surveys of how much senior living communities cost. Once again, using this different perspective from this experience, I have gained a new awareness of the costs and budgeting. Now that it was me living in the community instead of someone else, I was struck with reality of an actual expense that my retirement savings might be going towards. I realize that I am guilty of thinking that my retirement savings would be going primarily towards my leisure pursuits as opposed to something as mundane as my living expenses! Since most retirement communities’ monthly payments exceed my mortgage payments and household expenses, it has helped make me more aware of how my retirement savings needs to meet and exceed my current working income to enable me to enjoy the freedom of choice in the future.
Idea: Understanding your expenses and costs is very important to properly evaluate living options. Many times this transition may seem too expensive, but in the context of your complete budget it becomes much more affordable. There are also many elements of our decision making that can’t be quantified monetarily like friendship, safety and companionship.
One of the exercises I completed to fully experience this project was figuring out what furniture and possessions I could take with me to my new apartment. I currently live in a four-bedroom house and I was moving to a one-bedroom apartment. Therefore, it was quite a challenge to prioritize what I had room to take with me which turned out to about 13 pieces of furniture. The bigger challenge was looking at the hundreds of items that I would not be able to take with me and going through the process of how to sell, dispose of and give away the many possessions we have accumulated. I see how people become ‘paralyzed’ at this point of the process and decide that it will be much easier to stay put instead of making a move.
Idea: Think about documenting your possessions with photos, video or a scrapbook. Think about telling the stories of the home and what it means to you. This is a great way to preserve the memories of your home for yourself and future generations.
This exercise made me aware of how important the automobile is in establishing my purpose and maintaining my current lifestyle. Having close proximity to my new neighbors, transportation, entertainment and services made me realize how isolating my suburban lifestyle really is. I became more aware of how little I interact with those who live in my neighborhood and how appealing it is to talk and see my neighbors in the retirement community.
Idea: Many of us have slid into a lifestyle where independence and isolation is revered. Take an inventory on how many connections you have in your current neighborhood and how easy it is to access those things that you enjoy. Do you need a car? Is there public transportation nearby? If so, have you ever used it?
Even though I made a commitment to focus exclusively on my feelings and emotions when entering into this project, I expected that this experience might expose some ‘flaws’ about senior living. Much to my surprise, instead of discovering ‘flaws’ in senior living, I feel that this experience revealed more changes I could make to my current lifestyle. It revealed many benefits over the typical suburban neighborhoods that I have lived in most of my life.
I saw first-hand the stigma that exists toward ‘senior living’ in our society. Most people do not have an awareness of the tremendous sense of community that exists in these communities, and how important that can be for all of us, regardless of our age. I feel like the neighborhoods I have lived in throughout my life fall short when compared to my experience of living in a retirement community.
This experience allowed me to see the benefit to having a younger able-bodied person living in a community as opposed to being a visitor or staff member. If we can begin to better integrate all ages and abilities together in communities, it can go a long way toward erasing the stigma of aging that exists . . . everyone is aging.