What do cliff diving and moving to a retirement community have in common? Both require a leap of faith to trade the comfort of the familiar and the routine for a risk that, if successful, will yield an exhilarating reward. By far the more prevalent adventure, though, is packing up a lifetime of stuff to start over in a place where the people, the culture, even the weather may be different. And the thousands of Americans who move to a retirement community or assisted living residence each year are seeking not just a more relaxing, simplified lifestyle and, possibly, reliable medical support but also the kinds of companions who have made their previous decades rich and enjoyable.
But leaving a longtime home and neighborhood you could navigate with your eyes closed can be scary. “Moving is stressful, and moving to a senior community may be particularly taxing when it is an unforeseen outcome of a sudden decline in health and independence,” says Molly Maxfield, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado.
She notes that retirees have many more hours to do what they wish but may not have enough companions to share them with. “We hear about retirement planning for financial purposes, but many people don’t consider ways to plan for continued social interaction.” Among the considerations are whom you want to spend time with and on what, whether it is hobbies, learning new skills or volunteering for a personal cause, Maxfield says.
Helping those who move to Brighton Gardens make these decisions so they get socially adjusted and comfortable is a responsibility that Barbara Gallagher, activities and volunteer coordinator at this Sunrise Senior Living community in St. Charles, Ill., takes seriously. “As the activities director, it is most important that I — and the entire team — learn our residents’ rich history and story, so that we can successfully transition our residents into their new home and a happy and engaged life.”
Activities serve as a natural conversation starter and help people discover new interests and gain pride in what they can accomplish. “I do believe that the ones who will enjoy life the most are the ones who step outside of their comfort zone and get involved in learning a new game or even a skill,” Gallagher observes. “I have seen some wonderful transformations of residents who came to us without much zest for life who seem to blossom.”