Making the decision to move into an independent living retirement community is no different than any other life-changing choice. It’s never easy. We usually agonize over all the pros and cons before we finally decide. And with the decision made, we start the second-guessing process. But in the end, we usually make the right decision for our particular situation.
As Executive Director of Atria Senior Living, over the last couple of years, I have spoken with and toured many of the same potential residents every couple of months as they struggle with the decision and/or the timing. In the end, those people always eventually take the plunge.
What Drives The Decision To Move Into A Retirement Community?
For some, the desire to eliminate the stress, expense, and burden of maintaining a home is reason enough. For others, it takes a life-altering situation, such as the death of a spouse or partner or a serious health scare to drive a move. And lastly, a catastrophic event of some kind can quickly move things along.
For example, in the winter of 2020, Texas was hit with a major snowstorm followed by a deep freeze, which left most of the state without power or water for over a week. That resulted in no heat, no television, and no way to charge a cell phone, which cut many people off from the rest of the world.
For those who were not stocked with food and bottled water, it was a dire situation. For days, no one could get out of their homes to tend to parents or friends, and vice-versa.
Situations like these hasten some seniors’ decisions to move into a community that will help ensure their connectedness and well-being. Want proof? A community will normally sign anywhere from five to nine new leases monthly, but the month following that catastrophic winter storm prompted a historic month with an increase of lease signings equivalent to 200 percent.
The fear of again being stranded alone in their homes was just too much for many seniors to contemplate and pretty much eliminated any second guessing.
The Decision Is Finally Made. Now What?
Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, here’s what to expect when it comes to transitioning into a retirement community…
1. Appreciate That This Will Be Stressful (But Know There Is Help)
With few exceptions, moves are very stressful at best, even for the toughest of the tough. The angst of coordinating packers and movers, scheduling pick-up and delivery, and arranging loading docks and utilities — all combined with the downsizing process of deciding what to take, what to sell, and what to give away — can push a sane person right over the edge.
Pro Tip: The good news is there are companies called “move managers” that do most of the hard work and heavy lifting for you (for a fee of course, but it’s well worth every penny). They offer complete door-to-door services or piecemeal based on your need or budget.
2. Work With A Move Manager
So, you’ve chosen a move manager. The first thing on the agenda is a meeting in your new digs.
The move manager will take detailed notes and draw to scale the layout of the space with full measurements of each room, including the size of the kitchen countertops, cabinets, closets, and other storage.
The next step is a review of your current home and its contents. With that done, the two of you can sit down to determine what should be taken with you and what should be left behind to hand down to children, sell, or donate. From there, the move manager will take full control. They will hire and schedule packers and movers, schedule a loading dock if needed, and arrange all utilities, internet, et cetera.
3. Book A Temporary Home Away From (Or Between) Homes
In my experience, the best thing for you to do is book a nice hotel, spa, or vacation rental for a couple days, and just relax. Not only does your move manager pack up and move you. They’ll also unpack and organize, so when you walk out of your previous home and open the door to your new one, it is all set up, organized, and ready for relaxation.
As I mentioned above, you can utilize any or all of the services they offer based on your specific needs.
4. Navigate Your First Day In Your New Community!
Most communities will make a very big deal about your move-in day. And rightfully so. Think about it: Even with the ease of a move manager, by the time you’ve reached this point, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve been run through the ringer a couple of times.
Either way, you’ll probably be greeted by any available staff members, managers, community directors, your welcome ambassador, and possibly even a few residents. They’ll all gather around to welcome you home.
Once the meet and greet is over, your pre-assigned welcome ambassador should escort you to your new home, offering a very brief overview of the community along the way and inviting you to join them for breakfast, lunch, or dinner the following day.
Pro Tip: Don’t worry, whoever is showing you around will keep what they share pretty short on the first day as they realize it can be a bit overwhelming.
5. Stay Hydrated And Mind Your Blood Sugar: Welcome Trays, Snacks, And Drinks For Everyone
The culinary department usually has some type of welcome tray waiting for you. If you’ve got family helping you move, they will also deliver a tray of sandwiches and bottles of water to keep everyone fed and hydrated.
When the move and organization is complete, it’s finally time to turn in. It’s very common to have a restless first night given the new sounds, new surroundings, et cetera. But take a deep breath and cut yourself some slack; you’ve been through a lot of change in a very short time. It will all settle down fairly quickly.
6. Learn More On Day 2
The very next day, you’ll join your ambassador for a prearranged meal, and rest assured, the dining room is the hub of any community, so this is a great opportunity to meet other residents. The residents will go out of their way to welcome a new face, so be prepared to smile a lot, and not remember one resident’s name when it’s all over!
Your second day will also include an in-depth tour of the community and include what is commonly referred to as a “Discovery session,” which will help the activities director understand your hobbies, interests, needs, and wants to make sure they have activities that suit you. That information is also entered into a database that will identify other residents with the same interests, which will prompt lots of invitations to join select activities.
A couple days later, after you settle in a bit, you will attend a new resident orientation where the Executive Director will introduce you to all the department heads, such as housekeeping, maintenance, activities, culinary, and the business office. They will explain procedures for everything from entering a work order for a maintenance issue to ordering dinner to go or for delivery.
7. Sink Into The Feeling Of Home
Don’t rush it. In my experience it usually takes about 3 weeks for a new resident to feel comfortable navigating the community, joining residents for meals, and to simply start to feel at home. Don’t put too many demands on yourself. Give yourself time to adjust and settle in. Before you know it, the community will embrace you and you will truly have a new home and an extended family.
Still in the consideration phase? Read travel writer Sandi Barrett’s take: Why I Have Decided To Live In A Retirement Community.