Whether to move to a senior community
Deciding whether and when to move into a senior community is a challenging undertaking for many older adults, a decision that most people do not want imposed on them in a crisis.
For those who have lived in a single-family home for years, moving to a group housing complex can be a daunting leap, while for others, moving is a smooth transition that opens doors to new opportunities.
The vexing senior living jargon alone can seem like semantic gymnastics: adult community, assisted living, independent living, continuing care, life plan community, residential care homes, skilled nursing facility and managed communities, for example. States use almost 30 different terms for the various group living arrangements. (For a glossary of these and other terms, see http://bit.ly/AARPglossary.)
Individual needs, finances and priorities differ. Many adults want to be pro-actively in charge and not dump their fate on their children during a crisis.
Some want relief from home maintenance. Others hope to stay put and grow old in the surroundings they’ve known for many years. The decision is an individual one that needs to fit each person’s unique circumstances.
Some surprises (positive ones)
Most who’ve made the move advise viewing it as a positive change — the next chapter, a chance to re-invent. Marketers tout it as a revitalizing experience that can help maximize one’s golden years.
For Bill and Laurie (all last names withheld for privacy), moving in 2019 from their five-bedroom, 150-year-old house to an apartment in Washington, D.C.’s Knollwood, “turned out to be not as big a deal as we thought,” according to Bill, a retired Army doctor. He and his wife, Laurie, did extensive research before choosing Knollwood.
“We wanted control to make our own decisions, not burden our children — and not wait for an emergency when we would have fewer options and have to take what was available,” he said.
Surprisingly, taking that burden away from adult children can be poorly received. Adult children may need some time to “come to terms with it” and “get used to the idea,” Bill said of his three children.
“It was threatening to them. They felt they were losing the family home…You always think of your parents as being young. They accepted it eventually. Not facing a crisis made it easier on everyone,” Bill said.
“There are always tradeoffs,” he stressed. “Our life is not downgraded. Our lives got simplified,” he said, happy to be free of home maintenance and snow shoveling.
The biggest surprise was the ease of the transition to their new home, friends and social life. During the pandemic, living near others has made Bill and Laurie more mindful of others and more considerate of the common good.
Accident leads couple to move
Janet and her husband moved from a single-family home in Chevy Chase to Ingleside at King Farm in Rockville, Maryland, in 2019.
After a car accident injured both of them, being confined at home to recuperate and relying on drivers, they better understood the support they might eventually need. “This could be down the line if we are incapacitated,” Janet said.
Meals are covered in their fees, but Janet misses cooking. At first, living in and amid big buildings was an adjustment from their suburban neighborhood. Although “life would be richer” if they lived among people of different ages, Janet said, “You have to accept it.”
Moving during a pandemic
Kathy moved in September to Sommerset Retirement Community in Sterling, Virginia. She said Sommerset has helped her overcome the feeling of isolation she had in her previous community.
The decision to sell her home came easily, she said. “When it’s time to go, you’ll know.”
Especially appealing about the community was having dinner provided daily because, as a single woman, she finds it hard to cook for one.
Before the pandemic, Sommerset’s dinners were communal. Now staffers deliver meals directly to her apartment or allow her to pick them up herself.
Social isolation inspired move
Lydia was feeling socially isolated and increasingly cranky in their suburban Northern Virginia home of 37 years. After studying options for six months, she and her husband, Ned, chose the Friends House Retirement Community in Sandy Spring, Maryland.
Selling their house “as is” relieved them of the headaches of sprucing it up for sale. However, the pandemic delayed their move from March to June 2020.
Lydia said she has transitioned easily. She started a Tolstoy book club and feels a sense of community with neighbors she can call on.
“There’s a lot of gray hair around here,” Ned admitted, but he and his wife believe their choice means they won’t be an undue burden on their children.
Pandemic delays a move
Dorothy lives in a Fairfax County high-rise condominium building and is wrestling with the decision to move to a retirement community. She expects to choose a community in the area that offers different levels of care on site so she can make a seamless transfer when and if the time comes.
She sees communal living as a way “to avoid the isolation the elderly often encounter that is so destructive at a time of life when they are less mobile and active, with relatives living elsewhere and friends disappearing,” she said.
“In residential communities you can enjoy friendships with people you live with, with whom you can share meals and who will be available to you,” she added.
Dorothy hopes to decide on a home after the pandemic ends and communal life returns. “At all the ones where I have friends, they are locked down, cannot have communal meals or friends and relatives’ visits except outdoors, and are not allowed to leave the premises except under certain circumstances with certain restrictions,” she said.
Timing is key
One common piece of advice: Don’t move when you’re too young or too old.
Everyone’s circumstances are different. Some want to downsize their lives and homes while in their 50s or 60s so they can enjoy remaining active for many years. Others want to stay in their homes longer and move in their 70s or 80s.
“There’s no age or specific time. It’s different for different people,” Bill said. But, he added, “It gets harder as you get older, mentally and physically.”
“When you go in is an issue,” Dorothy said. You don’t want “to enter too early, but early enough to still be healthy enough to pass their health criteria and establish a life there.”
“Think of the move as your next home,” Bill said. “Where you live does not define you. Life does not stop.”
For more information
See “A Guide for Making Housing Decisions,” downloadable as a pdf at: eldercare.acl.gov/Public/Resources/Brochures/docs/Housing_Options_Booklet.pdf
To contact the communities mentioned in this article:
Knollwood (Washington, DC) (202) 541-0149
Ingleside at King Farm (Rockville, MD) (240) 380-2681
Sommerset (Sterling, VA) (703) 450-6411
Friends House (Sandy Spring, MD) (301) 924-5100