How to ease the transition into senior living for new residents

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Keith Grady, LNHA
Keith Grady, LNHA

Regardless of the circumstances, people usually have at least a little reticence when moving from the familiar to something completely new. That sentiment applies to just about everyone, regardless of age.

Understandably, many new retirees are concerned about how they might fare if they move from their current residence to a continuing care retirement / life plan community or a traditional retirement community environment. Most people have lived in their homes for decades, so the move represents a significant change all around.

Today's retirement communities often resemble resorts, so the variety of social and recreational options can be overwhelming. Envisioning a life at a senior living community, prospective or new residents may wonder: “Do I try out the indoor pool first? Enroll in all the fitness programs? How does the dining room work? Do I need a ticket for the Friday night comedy show?”

But is it as stressful as many retirees and their families may anticipate? Research made possible through a grant from the Institute for Optimal Aging discovered that, in fact, the transition process is not all that difficult for most seniors after all. In fact, the study found that retired men and women adapted positively to the move fairly quickly, became fully indoctrinated within just a few months and went on to thrive as time went on.

And there are ways that we can help them.

My inspiration to write this column came from a thank you card I received from a new resident. Cynthia moved to Applewood in September 2013, leaving behind a home she shared with her late husband.

“It was a big house, and I was very lonely after he was gone,” she wrote. “But I ultimately moved to a retirement community for the sake of my children. They worried about me living alone. I felt it was important for them to know I was safe and in good hands.”

In fact, one of the main reasons many seniors, including Cynthia, move to a retirement community is to offset social isolation, which is common with older adults. As siblings, friends and other family members pass on, longtime neighbors downsize and children are preoccupied raising their own families, many older people find themselves without a dinner companion, with no place to be or even a reason to leave the house.

What Applewood does

So how can a retirement community assist them with the move? During the early days and weeks after a new resident joins us here at Applewood in Freehold, NJ, we take special care to help ensure that the move is not just stress-free but also, we hope, exhilarating and celebratory.

Our community's manager of resident services plays a key role in taking over when our marketing department's relationship with the incoming senior comes to a close. She and her team help new residents get established and provide an introduction to programs, amenities, events and resources.

Additionally, we have a spirited peer-to-peer resident ambassador team, members of which personally welcome incoming seniors and offer a friendly and informative helping hand if needed. Most importantly, the ambassadors help newcomers meet their neighbors and discover new experiences to try, at a pace that's comfortable for them. The ambassadors also set up dining room seating arrangements so that from the start, newcomers have a casual opportunity to meet a variety of new neighbors during various mealtimes.

Ready in the wings

Older adults choose a CCRC, active adult or retirement community for a variety of reasons — less home maintenance, more social engagement, less cooking and cleaning, more travel and intellectual engagement.

Many seniors unpack and hit the ground running, meeting neighbors and discovering like-minded people who enjoy the same hobbies and interests. Others need a friendly, helping hand to get settled in.

Those of us in the senior living industry recognize and appreciate that moving can be emotionally and physically disconcerting. But a high-quality community should be ready to welcome new residents with helpful tools and resources. Even if new residents prefer a more “hands-off” approach, we're ready in the wings to ensure that the new journey they have embarked on will prove to be well worth the effort.

Keith Grady is the executive director at Applewood, a 25-year-old continuing care retirement / life plan community in Freehold Township, NJ. He has more than 30 years of experience managing retirement communities to meet the social, intellectual and healthcare needs of today's older adults. He may be reached at (732) 303-7416.

McKnight's Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.

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