Part 33: How to Find Harmony in Senior Living

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. As I age, simple pleasures have more meaning and are ever so cherished. For example, a few nights ago, my lifelong friend Ellen came to share dinner with me at Holiday Village East (HVE). The decision was last minute.

Ellen’s daughter Deanna and her friends were headed to a free summer concert on the Pier at Santa Monica beach. Ellen and I discussed joining the gals but decided our senior joints preferred chairs to beach blankets. My dining table chairs settled our dinner plans.

Having guests for dinner at HVE involves a phone call with a selection of food choices to the front desk staff. For a nominal $5 fee per person, guests are welcome to dine in the dining room or one’s apartment. Ellen arrived, dinner was delivered, and we enjoyed our effortless meal of a fresh garden salad, spaghetti, meatballs, cauliflower, garlic bread and chocolate ice cream.

We finished dinner and retreated to my balcony where we watched the beautiful sunset turn from sky blue to adobe pink to ink black. When the Pacific Ocean breezes turned chilly, we moved inside and enjoyed watching television together until Deanna arrived to take Ellen home.

Cleanup involved tray pickup. Gone are the days of food planning, grocery shopping, meal preparation and cleanup. Beautiful memories remain in my heart of decades of dinner parties in my lovely dining room, with meals shared with dear family and friends. Yet not for a minute do I miss the former efforts involved in placing fine china, shining silverware, and cut-crystal onto imported Irish linen tablecloths. I have downsized by choice and it is okay. I enjoy the simple pleasures that are made possible by living in a senior living community.

Lucky Seniors Plan For Senior Living

Sam Rosenberg, executive director of HVE for the past 30 years, notes that I am in harmony with my needs based upon Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. According to Maslow and observed by Rosenberg’s experience with literally hundreds of HVE residents, when one’s needs are met at the highest level at which an individual can function, harmony and gratification occur. To catch up on my earlier posts on seniors, family dynamics, and the Hierarchy of Needs theory, read Joan’s Journey: A Senior’s Quandary—To Move or Not to Move Near Loved Ones and Joan’s Journey:  How Aging Can Affect Family Dynamics.

Rosenberg says I’m one of the lucky seniors, because I am functioning at Maslow’s Level 5: Self-Actualization, having already met the lower levels of Esteem; Belonging and Love; Safety and Protection; and Biological and Psychological Needs.

Arriving at this place, both literally and figuratively, took at least four years of preparation. The process included countless hours of thought, soul-searching, family discussions, downsizing, selling my condo, identifying and finalizing my destination, and selecting a senior living community. SeniorHomes.com was extremely helpful in identifying potential senior communities that met my predetermined geographic, physical, social, and financial criteria.

Based upon my journey to an independent living community, which has turned out to be self-actualizing, I offer an unscientific assessment:

  1. Begin the senior relocation thought process as early as possible. Whether your move is across town or across country; do not wait until failing mental or physical health or a fall, forces you to move.
  2. Involve family and significant others; moving close to family involves multiple individuals, not just you. Agreement among everyone involved, with clear expectations and boundaries, is extremely important.
  3. Seek and consider advice from family, friends and professionals; then determine what works for you.
  4. Maintain control of the process and key decisions. Turning the relocation process over to well-meaning family, friends, or experts, may allow decisions you do not like:
  5. If at all possible, relocate while well and mobile; adjustments to a new environment and changes in lifestyle are easier when you are physically strong and mentally alert.
  6. Downsize, downsize and downsize some more. After becoming settled at your new home, downsize again. Letting go of stuff is liberating.
  7. Expect life to be different; don’t try to recreate your former lifestyle.
  8. Embrace changes as opportunities; develop new friendships, interests and hobbies.
  9. Remain as independent as possible, but accept assistance as needed.
  10. Have realistic expectations of your family and friends’ time and schedules.
  11. Enjoy the simple pleasures.

In conclusion, the most unhappy adjustments occurs when children or significant others force their elderly loved ones to relocate. These unhappy residents feel out of control, resent their loved ones, and have the most difficulty experiencing change. Their Hierarchy of Needs is not met. On the other hand, the happiest and most adjusted senior community residents are the individuals who chose their location and lifestyle—those who plan ahead and move by choice.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, love is important to human growth, development and optimal functioning, and pets provide unconditional love and a feeling of belonging, so important for many seniors. Prior to living at HVE, I thought seniors who want pets should have them. In the next Joan’s Journey, I’ll explain my change of heart, which surprises even me. Until the next Joan’s Journey, enjoy the trip day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.