You’ve visited countless senior residences (or a select few, if you heeded the advice of the “How to Choose” article). You’ve picked what could be your home for the next 10+ years. You’ve decided which of your things you’ll take with you. You’ve moved in and are about to start the next chapter. Now what? Adjusting to your new home can be an arduous transition. Through each of the aforementioned steps, you may have come to terms with the impending change, or tried to avoid the thought altogether. Regardless, the moment has arrived and you are confronted with a new suite, new faces and a new routine.
The amount of time it takes you to fully adjust to a residence is dependent on the resident and the circumstances. However, Helen Brown, Community Relations Manager at Berwick Royal Oak Retirement Community in Victoria, suggests that clients give themselves a minimum three-month period to adjust; often, if the decision to move was made by the resident, that period of time will be much shorter.
Alleviation of the adjustment period can happen before entering the residence. If extended family members are helping with your move, Linda Lord, Community Relations Manager at Berwick House in Victoria, suggests that one of them take you away from “the action” on moving day (if they don’t suggest it, you can). If you’re off doing something amusing, stress about the overall change won’t be compounded by the transportation of items.
The first few days can be especially overwhelming, but the staff and other residents are aware of these challenges and make an effort to include new residents and show them around. Think of the first few days as “toe-dipping” – a time to orient yourself with the building. The staff does what they can to aid transition (welcome signs, invitations to activities, etc.), but mentality and proactivity are the keys to adjusting. Brown says attitude is the biggest determiner of success – seniors with a “glass-half-full approach” are the ones who enjoy themselves earlier on. You don’t have to “do it all” to prove you’re making an effort, but prioritize the activities you like and commit yourself; the emphasis should be on “trying.”
If the decision to move wasn’t entirely yours, Denise Tidman, Executive Director of Norgarden and The Peninsula, says to keep reminding yourself of the advantages a community can offer. Seniors may think they’ve lost power over the decision-making process, but there are several daily activities they do have control over.
Sarah Smith, who works at The Cridge Centre for the Family in Victoria, tells residents to look out for opportunities to learn something new. Most residences have weekly lectures or exploratory outings. By taking advantage of educational offerings, you’ll not only broaden your mind, but you’ll start to see your new environment as a chance for growth.
As mentioned by Tidman, a driving feature of a residence is the sense of togetherness it brings. Although, many residents say they worried about “fitting in” before they moved, as soon as they made one or two friends, that anxiety went away. A routine time that connections are made is during community meals. Even if you’re a quiet person who is reticent about activities, a presence at mealtimes ensures a lessened feeling of isolation. Whether you’re doing the socializing or merely surrounded by it, you’ll begin to feel like you’re a part of the community.
Comfort-level is individual, and may be gradual, but immersing yourself into an active environment upon arrival helps to form bonds and prevent over-thinking. If the adjustment is especially difficult, reach out. It’s important to remember the other residents have gone through the same transition, so they can offer advice or support that outside friends or family may not understand. There will likely be newcomers arriving on a regular basis, so the people who have recently moved in will be a good source for making those connections. Residents with a shared background or common interests will lead to strong friendships, so take those opportunities to socialize.
Regardless of the residence programs in place to ease the move, transitions are still a major adjustment. However, Brown offers a sentiment of reassurance: “Ninety-five per cent of residents say one of two things: ‘I should have done this a couple of years ago’ and ‘I didn’t realize how lonely I was.’” It may take you longer than anticipated to adjust, but make small goals to interact with new people and activities; with time, patience and a good attitude, you will find comfort in your surroundings (and may, like Brown’s clients will attest, consider it the best years yet).
august 2016 INSPIRED senior living magazine
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