"Are the people like me?"
"How will I make friends?"
"What if I don’t like the residents?"
"It’s scary. It feels overwhelming."
"This was my kids’ idea, not mine."
"What will I do with all my stuff?"
We all have these questions and lots more when we make our eventual “Last Stop” decision. The Sales staff at my Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) makes a serious effort to give prospective buyers the feel of the place. The potential buyers are often invited to spend a night here. While visiting, Sales arranges for them to eat with residents who they think they might enjoy. The guests are invited to participate in routine activities that are scheduled for the day—perhaps an exercise class, a lecture, an art class.
A Wide Variety of Wonderful People
I find I live with a wide variety of wonderful people. Some are younger, some older, some Republicans, some Democrats, and an interesting religious mix. We all are so often amazed that as we meet a new person, we discover we have a surprising life connection. I moved here from Snowmass Village, Colorado; I had previously lived in the Chicago area. I met a woman from Racine, Wisconsin and after a conversation we discovered we had been on a safari to Kenya and Tanzania together with Elderhostel 20 years ago.
One man and woman discovered they had gone to high school together in Minnesota and had never seen each other since. And then a man and a woman, strangers to each other, found that one had a great grandfather and the other a great uncle who were the same person—a former governor of California.
Most people are Caucasian with a few Asians. Yes, there are more women then men, more singles than couples. Living here is a Minister and his wife, also a Monsignor; maybe someday a Rabbi will move in.
Making The Right Decision
Nora and Rob were both 76 years old when they moved here. When they were younger and raising four children they had spent many years being the sole caretakers of Nora’s mother who was suffering from Dementia. As Nora and Rob aged, they felt strongly that they didn’t ever want their children to be burdened caring for them. Two of their four children and their families live close by and Nora and Rob are delighted with their move.
Lucile and Gary were still working when they moved into their apartment when our place opened and are still working now. Lucile was 62 and just old enough to be admitted. They had been able to sell their home successfully and felt this to be a wise move financial.
While most new people adjust, get acquainted and love the place, some do not and if they decide to leave they can get a refund and move out. I met a woman, a recent widow, who moved from Palm Beach, Florida because her daughter thought she should be in Colorado close to her.
The woman moved into her Cottage during a snowstorm. She had never driven in snow and after a month decided winter in Colorado was not for her. She left. Since she had sold her condo in Florida she needed to buy another. Her money was refunded and off she went.
What We Do With The Rest Of Our Lives Is Ours
This vignette raises an important issue for older people. We need to remember the decision of what we do with the rest of our lives is ours not our children’s. They can suggest, advise and help, but I continue to counsel anyone who will listen that we are in charge and the choice is ours.
I do not know what other people pay to live in senior retirement communities. I do know that the basic policy of my Class A CCRC is to require a down payment and an agreed upon percentage refunded at the death of the individual or the couple. In addition, a monthly fee is charged. The monthly fee does not change if a resident moves to assisted living, skilled nursing or the memory care unit, or even if one member of a couple moves and two residences are then occupied.
A Very Supportive Effort
When new residents move in, there is a very supportive effort to make them feel welcome by staff and fellow residents. There is a person on each corridor in the Lodge that takes the responsibility of helping the newcomer learn about the place and get acquainted. When I moved from my Cottage to the Lodge, I was treated as a semi-newcomer.
The friendly neighbor on my corridor met with me and showed me around, another person on the corridor had a cocktail party and invited all the people on the corridor to meet me. And I wasn’t even a newcomer, just someone moving from a Cottage to the Lodge. I plan to write about my move in an upcoming article.
A Great Place to Make Friends
The dining room is a great place to make friends and it is the policy of our company to encourage residents to have their meals there. There is a dining room dress code set by the residents. While some don’t agree, the majority of residents see the dining room at dinner as a formal place and expects diners to be well-dressed. Men do not need jackets, but jeans or tee shirts are not welcomed. Women are expected to be nicely dressed.
The jeans rule angers some people who argue that in the real world jeans are the dress of choice. After some strong lobbying, the code was changed for Sunday brunch and jeans are allowed; the argument being that this is a family visiting time and young people are accustomed to being nicely dressed in jeans.
As I’ve tried to show, when a group of people from different parts of the country, with different cultural backgrounds and different tastes, gather together to live in a CCRC there are going to be differences. While this group living adjustment is harder for some than others, in my opinion it is the best living choice for later years.
Written by Margery Fridstein, an author and retired psychotherapist specializing in child development. Margery currently lives in a continuing care retirement community outside of Denver, CO. She is chronicling her senior living experience in the monthly series, “The Last Stop With Margery Fridstein.”