Whether to move to a senior community
With so many senior housing options available today, deciding where to live — and whether to move at all — can be an agonizing exercise for some. For others, there is no decision to make: They want to stay put in the home they’ve known for years.
But some older adults find they need support, or they long for a more active social life and prepared meals. Others are ready to stop mowing lawns and shoveling snow.
Some fear becoming disabled and prefer to decide to move to an assisted living facility themselves, to avoiding dumping the decision and the logistics on their children.
Choosing the right fit requires learning the meanings of terms like retirement community, adult community, assisted living, independent living, co-op living, continuing care, life plan community, residential care homes and skilled nursing facility, for example. (For a glossary of these and other terms, see bit.ly/AARPglossary.)
Services at different communities can vary tremendously. Some facilities offer medical support; some do not. Some offer meals delivered to your door. Others have on-campus restaurants.
Some are high-rise buildings; others are village-like, single-family homes. Some have the full continuum of care. Recreation can range from walking trails to chess to swimming.
For one form of senior housing, called assisted living, there are 28,900 communities with 811,500 residents in the U.S. today, according to the National Center for Assisted Living. Maryland has 900 assisted living communities with 49 percent of residents over age 85.
How to research the options
To conduct extensive research on all local options, visit multiple communities. Talk to residents and staff (especially staffers who are not in the marketing department). Ask about employee turnover rates and the staff-to-resident ratio.
Spend time with knowledgeable financial advisors and elder law attorneys and read the fine print of all documents.
Moving has emotional, social, physical and financial implications. The bottom line is that everyone’s situation is different, and you have to decide what’s right for you.
Leaving a family home
Connie (last name withheld for privacy) moved from Baltimore’s Canton area to Charlestown, a retirement community in Catonsville, in 2016 at age 66. She moved into a two-bedroom, fifth-floor unit of a six-story building.
“It was a big move,” to leave a house that had been in her family for 90 years, she said.
While emotionally tied to the family home, however, Connie realized that it was an old house and needed a lot of expensive rehab. Also, the area had lost the “neighborhood feel” as many young millennials moved in. Although they would offer friendly greetings in passing, they were busy working, traveling and “hanging out in bars,” she recalled.
Before choosing Charlestown, Connie visited almost 15 communities to find the one “to fit my personality.” Her new home has “exceeded my expectations,” she said, and she’s made many new friends. Staffers are friendly and helpful.
Another plus: She gets one meal a day. “The food is so darn good — who wants to cook?” she asked.
She also enjoys the lectures, films, line dancing and book club. In fact, there are so many activities (that is, in non-pandemic times) that she found she had to skip some.
Although it took a while to adjust, Connie said, “I don’t miss my old life.”
However, she encourages people to move when they have no major health problems and can enjoy all the activities. “Don’t wait until you are 80 and have a health problem,” she recommends.
Another tip: Start downsizing today. Unloading furniture, books, clothes and pots and pans for a smaller place brought her relief.
‘Keeps me going mentally’
Life became too crowded for Bettie when she was living with her son, his wife, a child and another on the way. Besides, at 71, she wanted her own worry-free place.
So, she chose a 15th-floor, one-bedroom apartment in Bayview’s Virginia Towers in Towson and moved in this past November. Being among people her own age “keeps me going mentally,” she said.
She doesn’t miss navigating stairs, cooking meals, mowing the lawn or shoveling snow — it’s all done for her.
“Well, I still have to get the snow off my car,” she admitted.
Bettie also urges people to move into a senior community early, “while you’re able to get around,” she said.
Help always available
Patricia, 72, also moved from a single-family Baltimore home to Bayview’s Virginia Towers in Towson during the pandemic. She is single and felt she needed support after having a stroke.
“I wanted something small just for me, and the freedom do things when I want to do them,” she said.
Now, Patricia is ensconced in her one-bedroom, 12th-floor apartment within a convenient walk to Towson Town Plaza.
There’s comfort in knowing that “if something happens, I can get help,” she said. In a traditional, single-family home, even with family nearby, that’s not guaranteed, she contends.
Fitness clubs, restaurants and pool
Gary Michael, 70, and his wife, Judy, 64, enjoy their view of a turtle pond and park at Erickson Living’s Oak Crest in Parkville. They moved from a four-bedroom house in Hanover, Maryland, to a two-bedroom apartment with a balcony in March 2019.
“That house and lawn were just too much,” Gary said. A retired attorney, he and Judy were seeking “to feel comfortable and safe and to age in place.”
They wanted to know that if one passed away, the other would have care. For him, it helped to “pray about the life changes you’re about to make.”
He loves the nine eateries on campus, and Judy likes the fitness clubs and pool. But the main reason they chose Oak Crest was for its friendly feel.
“The people seemed happy, and employees seemed happy, too,” Gary said, reflecting on their scouting visit.
“It’s a community,” he said. “People look out for each other. It’s not just a place where we hang our hat at night. It’s where we make friends, swim and play shuffleboard.”
His advice: Visit in person often, talk to residents and employees and check out different apartments. And don’t wait too long.
“It’s better to choose than to be forced to move,” he said.
While uprooting and moving is always a disruptive experience, it can be a positive experience, even a renewal. It’s an opportunity to reinvent, meet new people, overcome feelings of isolation and make the most of one’s life.
For more information, visit the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging at n4a.org or the Administration for Community living at aoa.gov. Read the free “Guide for Making Housing Decisions” at bit.ly/housingdecisionguide.