Column: Aging: The new place

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Commentary by Lorene Burkhart

After the sorting and weeping, it’s time to move on to the new, smaller residence.  This might be an apartment with no extra services (more likely chosen by the 70-75 still active age group), or it might be a retirement community with independent living as well as health services such as assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care.

Locating the retirement community that suits you best can be a lengthy process, if you visit all of them.  If you have the time, it can be fun and informative.  Making a checklist of what is important to you will help as you make the visits.  Here are some ideas of questions to ask:

  • Is it a rental or do you buy in?  If there is a buy in, how much does it cost and what are the terms?
  • What services are provided with your monthly payment?  Even if you are a buyer, there is still a monthly payment.  How much is it and what does it include?  If it includes meals, how much is allowed per month and does it accrue from month-to-month, if you don’t use all of it?
  • While you are there, take a look at the menu to get an idea of the food they serve.
  • Health services are usually a priority to the elderly.  What are they and what is the cost?  If fitness is a priority and you enjoy swimming, is there a pool?  Do they offer professional trainers and a variety of classes?
  • If you have a car, is there a garage and do you pay extra for it?  If you don’t drive, is there transportation for medical appointments, shopping and services?
  • Are there planned opportunities for socializing?
  • If you enjoy attending concerts and programs offered in the community, is transportation provided?
  • Take a tour of the facilities and the grounds.  Can you visualize living there?  If you enjoy being outdoors for walks and sitting in the sunshine, are there places available?
  • If you are a light sleeper, is the location in a quiet neighborhood?
  • Don’t sign up for an apartment larger than you really need.  It’s difficult to imagine, for a woman, that you can choose to not cook and that you won’t need cabinets full of pots, pan and dishes.   I had cooked and entertained all of my life so I couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t need all of the paraphernalia that I moved (and haven’t used).  That’s OK, sometimes it’s comforting to know that you can still whip up a batch of cookies, so indulge yourself.  I have found that many of the residents where I live have chosen apartments with two bedrooms and two bathrooms.  Some want a guest room, others are couples who want separate spaces.  I use my second bedroom as an office and television area – one end is built-in with a U-shaped countertop, file cabinets, wall cabinets and a large bookcase on the opposite wall.  The other end contains a sofa, leather hassock/coffee table and flat screen TV.

I found that designing my 1250 square feet of space based on how I would use it worked out perfectly.  I don’t entertain anymore and I don’t worry about making other people comfortable.

Now, a word about the new lifestyle.  I describe it as similar to being in college and living in a dorm or sorority house.  It is structured.  There are set mealtimes, classes and group socializing.  If you are a loner, you have to adjust to being surrounded with people.  If you are a joiner, you will have many opportunities to meet new people.  If you are inquisitive, you can learn about other places, hobbies and ideas from your new friends.  I have really enjoyed meeting people who were born in other countries, others who moved from far away places to be near an adult child, some with fascinating hobbies – we have a wood carving artist, a weaver, a painter and a lady who makes unbelievable miniature rooms.

I’m an organizer so I assist with planning activities and outings.  I’ve also created after dinner activities that include a Book Club and a Needleworker’s Group.  There is never a need to be bored.

It doesn’t take long in your new group surroundings to realize that having new friends who care about your wellbeing is a joy.  Being open to the possibilities is up to you.

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