After the children have left home and grandchildren have grown, most seniors need less space and want less responsibility. Deciding what to keep and what to give away can be daunting. Margo McIntosh, Marketing Coordinator of the Wellesley in Victoria, suggests seniors hire a downsizer or transition specialist even if their families are prepared to help them move.
Wellesley resident Chuck Addison hired a downsizing firm to help him make the transition. The move was easy, he says. The company marked everything he wanted to bring to the residence, and then measured the space in his new place to see where it would fit. During the transition, Chuck stayed at a hotel. At the end of three days, he was handed a key and his new home was ready.
Having spent 35 years in the military, followed by several years as a pastor, Chuck wasn’t planning to go into a retirement home, but after his wife’s illness and death, he felt drained and his son and daughter encouraged him to look for a senior residence.
Married for 46 years and having lived in their house for 22 years, Chuck says it was a difficult decision. “I really loved the home.” But with his children’s help, he sold the house and moved into the residence his daughter chose for him.
His house sold in an hour, “so it made it a little more urgent for me to get out.”
At first, Chuck says, “I thought I was in the wrong place.” But he soon met friends who invited him “to come and eat with them and from that time on, things started getting better.” The most impressive thing Chuck found in the residence was the way people rally around each other. “I just found love in action.”
Now, seven months later, Chuck says, “It was what I needed. I’ve learned that this is part of a family. Being around people is a healing factor. It turned my life around again because I don’t think we’re meant to be alone.”
Now a licensed chaplain at the residence, Chuck finds that “If you want to do all the activities that come out every month, you’d be going every day.” Chuck keeps himself busy playing chess, bridge, cards and shooting pool. In addition, he says, the staff continually organizes events for people to attend.
Irene Stoddart moved into The Peninsula at Norgarden a month after she made the decision. She lived alone and after a couple of falls, she began to look for a safer residence. She chose the Norgarden because her daughter-in-law works in the office and her son lives nearby. Downsizing for Irene was easy. She called on her son who gave her some good advice. “Now Mother,” he said, “look around and decide what you want to take with you. The rest of the stuff, you’ve had your use of it, got your money’s worth out of it. It doesn’t owe you anything, so just get rid of it.”
“So that’s what I did,” says Irene. “I gave everything away.”
Irene moved into the community residence before she put her home up for sale. Although she had lived in the house for 37 years, she didn’t find anything challenging about her move. The biggest adjustment was that she didn’t have to think about cooking anymore.
“I was raised in a big family and there was always a table full of people,” she says. “To cook for one person is almost impossible,” although she still bakes if she wants to. In her “cute little kitchen” at the residence, she makes “shortbread and jelly rolls” because “I have company drop in for tea.”
Originally from Saskatchewan, a homemaker who worked part time in a bakery after her children grew up; Irene says she’s very busy at the Norgarden because there is so much to do. “The time just goes by so quickly.” Having moved to the residence a year ago, Irene says, “It’s like I’ve been here for six weeks.”
For individuals considering their options of staying in their home or moving to a senior residence, Irene says, “It’s a good idea to move before you take that last fall.”
Sandra Boyle moved into the Astoria Resort Retirement Living in Coquitlam 13 months ago. A retired elementary school teacher and principal who lived most of her life in Coquitlam, Sandra says downsizing was the hardest part of moving into communal living for her.
Sandra lived alone in a three-bedroom condo that was becoming too much for her to manage except that she had a dog that needed the backyard.
When her dog died and she got a smaller Papillon that didn’t need as much space, Sandra began looking for a retirement community. “I needed the stimulation of people my age. I was finding, as I got older, a lot of my friends were dying and I just didn’t have as full a social life as I was used to.”
Although she had a lot of help from her family and the Astoria was great in helping her with the move, downsizing meant she had to leave behind “all the little treasures and comforts that had accumulated over a lot of years,” and the family “didn’t seem to want my things. They’re too old fashioned.”
Giving up her treasures was depressing for Sandra, but she was determined to enjoy the benefits of her new home. Now settled, she says the residence has the kind of energy she was looking for. The building is attractive and the grounds offer a lot of outdoor space for walking her dog.
The hard part, at first, is finding your place among a hundred strangers, says Sandra who noticed that is the case with almost every new resident for the first month until they make some friends.
One of the comforts Sandra enjoys now is the regular shuttle bus that services nearby locations for shopping and doctors’ and dental appointments. She likes the convenience of being dropped off and picked up by the bus. Another convenience she enjoys is “I don’t have to cook or clean anymore, which is a great luxury.”
Living in a residence has reduced the number of decisions Sandra has to make. “I found it reduced anxiety because I knew there was somebody there to support me if there was something I couldn’t handle,” she says. “What felt like a challenge to begin with turned out to be really in my best interest.”
Seniors making a transition to community living need to feel that somebody cares. Most places do. At the Astoria, Sandra says, “The staff is outstanding in terms of its warmth and friendliness and supportiveness. I don’t think anything counts more than that.”
“I think that the most amazing part that I’ve seen is that the staff go out of their way to really make you feel at home,” says Chuck Addison at the Wellesley.
“Everybody here is so caring that it seems like we’re one big family,” says Irene Stoddart at the Norgarden.
“Moves are stressful, especially for seniors,” Wellesley’s Margo McIntosh concurs. “It depends on the personality of the individual and their overall health. People moving in that are healthier usually transition easier.” Some folks who move in and look depressed, at first, Margo says, soon begin to dress up and feel alive again.
Much like students adjusting to a new school, seniors considering transition to a retirement facility are confronted with change, but once adjusted to the new residence, most find a strong support system with new friends, new things to do and fewer responsibilities.
AUGUST 2012 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE