Top Tips for the Transition: Making the Most of the Move to a Retirement Community

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By: Cathy Ritter

A whirlwind schedule packed with activities, such as traveling to nearby historical attractions or a professional sporting event. Working out in a fully-equipped health center or participating in a video game tournament. Some days, not getting to bed until well after midnight.

This isn’t college – it’s today’s retirement community.

Despite this new paradigm in retirement living, the decision to move into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) is still one of the biggest challenges older Americans face, often with a great deal of reluctance. Obviously, it can be difficult to let go of a home where they have raised families and accumulated a lifetime’s worth of possessions, and equally difficult to face the fact that they may someday need assistance with the daily tasks of living. Unless the decision is essentially made by circumstance, such as a health crisis or death of a spouse, some still tend to believe that CCRCs are for “other people.”

But that’s changing. Many — in particular Boomers — now cite a desire to plan ahead, or simply the need to downsize and escape the maintenance associated with a house or yard.

Once that decision is made, selecting the right community can be equally challenging. “The idea of searching for and selecting the right community may deter people who could otherwise benefit from one,” says Cathy Ritter, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Asbury Communities, Inc., a not-for-profit organization that manages a system of communities across the U.S. “But today’s communities are a far cry from the stereotypical ‘rest home,’ and the majority of residents are not holed up in their apartments watching ‘Matlock’ reruns. They offer a vibrant lifestyle, encourage social interactions, and have a real, positive energy. There’s a sense of belonging, and of being among family.”

There are many factors that can help alleviate some of the stress of moving. Ritter offers ten tips that will assist in providing a seamless transition to a new community.

1. Create a wish list: First, compile a list of all of the qualities a “dream community” would have such as housing options, location, activities, transportation, and the availability of care — the things that would make you feel comfortable and happy. Prioritize them to help narrow the consideration set and make the search easier.

2. Research: After identifying several communities that meet your potential requirements, conduct some thorough research. Look beyond the community’s website. Talk to current or former residents. Understand costs, deposit and refund structures, and the community’s financial outlook. Review all important documents such as the contract and the financial report with your lawyer, accountant or financial advisor. And finally, verify that the community will be able to provide adequate care should your physical needs increase in the future.

3. Total immersion: After conducting some initial research into prospective communities, go experience them —and taking a campus tour should be just the beginning, according to Ritter. “Going for a meal or two, sitting down with residents and staff members, or participating in an activity will give you a realistic idea of day-to-day life. Many communities now offer truly multidimensional wellness programs that go beyond a pool or walking path. You’ll find opportunities to get involved at all levels.”

4. Keep family in the loop: When moving through the selection process, keep close family members involved. They can provide a strong support system and it will show both the family and the staff that their input is valued.

5. Hire a pro: Hiring professionals to help with the move from the family house to the new space can be extremely beneficial. “Most likely, you won’t be able to take all of your possessions along,” says Ritter, “but there is a growing industry of individuals and companies who specialize in relocating to retirement communities. A professional can help you decide what to keep, leave behind, give away or sell.”

6. Create a space: As you settle into your new space at the community, it may help to arrange furniture and decorations in a manner that is similar to how things were set up at home. This will help remove some of the discomfort that comes with being in a new place.

7. Get to know the staff: These are the people who live with and care for the residents on a daily basis, so an honest and open relationship is extremely beneficial. The more they know about you from the beginning, the better they will be able to take care of your needs.

8. Keep a routine: Trying (whenever possible) to keep the same routine established at home will help you stay connected to familiar people and places.

9. Get involved: Once the resident settles into the new housing, the fun can begin. “Look for ways to get   involved,” says Ritter. “That’s a great way to meet other residents, and to start feeling like you’re part of a community. Very likely, you will find there are others who share your interests.”

10. Remain positive: Throughout the entire process, a positive attitude is essential. “Life at a community will be what you make of it, so keeping positive thoughts and an open mind goes a long way,” notes Ritter. “Amenities and housing options aside, what’s most important is that it IS a community. There’s always someone available if you want to enjoy some fun or simply need a lift. You can be alone if you prefer, but you never have to feel alone.”

Transitioning from home to a community is a major life change, but keeping these tips in mind can help reduce the stress of a move and ensure that adults can enjoy this exciting new time in their lives to the fullest. They’ll wish they had moved ten years ago.

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