Life is filled with changes that affect our social lives. Graduating, launching a career, getting married, having children, retiring – these events all tend to have a profound effect on our social circles. We are all constantly changing and growing, meeting new people and making new friends, but the golden years can present an additional challenge – moving from a familiar home/neighbourhood and into a senior residence.
For some, this means moving away from an area you’ve known and loved for many years, and the lifelong friendships you have nourished.
“Transition is never easy when it comes to considering a move to a retirement community,” says Joel Grigg, Retirement Living Consultant at Burnaby’s AgeCare Harmony Court residence. “Often, people feel as though they are giving up their independence, as well as their long-term home. Many seniors consider a move because they have outlived their family and friends.”
That said, a major benefit of moving into a seniors’ residence is the bond that forms with caregivers and fellow residents, and the fulfilment it brings.
“Building new friendships is one of the most important things you can do for both your physical and mental health,” says Micky Fleming, CEO and Owner of Cherish Living Group.
Living in a social environment with a range of activities to choose from is incredibly beneficial to overall health. In fact, laughter and joy have been found to be key in many studies related to aging well, according to a 10-year Australian study of almost 1,500 people aged 70 and older. It found those with larger social circles lived longer than their counterparts.
“Social isolation in seniors is a growing concern,” says Lena Foran, Director of Sales and Marketing for Berwick Retirement Communities. “At Berwick, we believe friendship and social interaction is an important part of an engaging lifestyle, and we make a conscious effort with new residents to set them up with a buddy, who can help them navigate the new environment. Also, we host events where new residents are invited to meet their neighbours and the staff.”
AgeCare Harmony Court takes a similar approach. Welcome parties are arranged for a new resident with an effort to connect him/her with those who share their interests.
“When we discuss the opportunity of a move to an active community, such as ours, we do a fairly extensive discovery on the new tenant. This discovery allows us to match people up not only from the aspect of their dining partners, but also when it comes to hobbies and activities,” says Grigg.
AgeCare also has in-house resident ambassadors that like to volunteer to reach out to the new residents. Long-term resident at Harmony Court, Barbara, loves to help new friends settle in.
“I remember being quite shy when I first got here,” says Barbara, “so I make sure to say hi and smile at everyone, and ask them what they like to do. If someone has the same hobby, I’ll help them to meet. Sometimes, a great friendship comes from that.”
At Cherish, activities are typically resident-guided, so residents meet once per month with the activities coordinator to discuss new ideas and hobbies they’d like to bring to the table.
In the new building in Central Park (fall 2017), there will be silversmithing because it’s something a new resident is passionate about and would like to teach others.
“Activities really range from the things you would normally see – from bingo, all the way to woodworking, and a community garden,” says Fleming. “Once we find out what their interest is, it doesn’t take long for them to find their crowd.”
“It really does depend a lot on the individual because some people are just thrilled to be chatting with others, playing cards and eating lunch,” he continues. “For those who are shyer, the whole orientation is geared towards finding that common ground, toward bringing the sparkle back to their eyes.”
Fleming talks about one resident, who was on the grumpier side. She didn’t want to have anything to do with anyone but, one day, she discovered the karaoke machine. Fleming found her up out of her power chair and singing along to the Beatles’ hit Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da. It turns out, she used to love going out and singing karaoke and this really brought her back. “Her daughter phoned me and said, ‘she hasn’t been this happy in 20 years!’” says Fleming.
To get the most out of the transition from your own home to a senior residence, take the time to research and narrow down your choices, in terms of community size and activities offered.
“When you move into a retirement community, the first few weeks, or even months, can be challenging,” says Foran. “The key to a seamless transition is going into the transition with an open mind and embracing the change. Get involved in the activities the community has to offer and start to get to know your neighbours and the staff in the community. By doing this, you’ll soon find a network of friends and support that will make the transition feel easier.”