Retirement community. Say these words and your aging parent winces, or goes into a tailspin. Karl Pillemer, Ph.D. and author of “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans,” speculates why that’s often the case.
In researching his book, Pillemer asked 1000 Americans aged 65 and older, “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” Their answers covered lots of ground, from how to stay happily married, to how to raise children, from how to grow old gracefully to how to live without regrets.
Regarding retirement communities, Pillemer discusses reasons why seniors resist moving from their home. First, their home is a symbol of independence, one which they sacrificed mightily to own. Second, many seniors fear a loss of privacy, thinking that retirement community living may be invasive. Growing up, your parents’ generation typically went from their parents’ home into marriage and raising their own children. As young adults, they didn’t usually live in group settings such as dorms, apartments or fraternities like many of us did. So the idea of living in a community seems unnatural.
Around 150 of the seniors participating in Pillemer’s book live in senior living communities of some kind. Even though many were reluctant to make the move, once settled in, they liked it, says Pillemer.
“With very few exceptions, they described the move from their home to that location as one of the best decisions of their lives.” A supportive setting allowed them more freedom to participate in meaningful activities and build strong relationships.
If you have parents on the fence, Pillemer suggests showing them the following stories. I’ve shortened them a bit, but hopefully they’ll still be helpful if your parents are undecided.
Edward Horan (not his real name), 77, and his wife discovered new opportunities upon moving to a retirement community. He says:
We take our meals in the dining room, so we’re with other people at least twice a day. I didn’t realize how much I missed the fun of being with people on a regular basis. Being in community with them, sharing, well, about as many activities as you’re interested in. We have exercise every morning, which is good physically and good conversation. There’s the pool, and billiard players get together each morning, and a bridge group.
Ron Hutton, 90 and widowed, moved to a retirement community and found a new life. He offers the following advice to his peers who are unsure about moving to a retirement community.
“So I’d say you need to get a life. Do something. Take pictures. Oh my God, have something to look forward to. For example, I’m going to take this painting class. I’ve always wanted to take it. This community does a pretty good job. I get up in the morning sometimes feeling pretty disconnected and depressed. I get dressed. I come down to breakfast, and I don’t go back depressed.”
Have you talked with your aging parent about retirement communities? If so, what are their thoughts?
I believe living in 55 retirement communities require adjustment but people who experience living here, even for a while, will change their negative thoughts about it. It is nice to regain a social life especially if you are surrounded by people in your own age. I think that really makes a difference and the support is also helpful for growth and happiness.