I recently worked with a family whose parents were still living in the home they’d been in for over 45 years. Like many people, Ben and Margaret* felt strongly that they wanted to stay in their family home forever. They were not open to considering other options. Then, Margaret fell and broke her leg. It was a serious break and she wasn’t going to be able to navigate stairs for several weeks, and possibly even months. In addition, Ben was not able to manage all the household responsibilities without his wife’s help. After considering their situation, they decided to move to a retirement residence while her leg was healing, with the intention of returning to their home as soon as possible.
While recuperating in the retirement residence, Ben and Margaret found that their lives became easier. Margaret had always loved to cook, but in recent years found it more of a chore than a joy. They were convinced they would dislike the food, and were pleasantly surprised to find they liked both the quality of the food and the variety. They also found that they had more time to do things they enjoyed, as they weren’t having to do household chores and maintain their home.
Ben and Margaret also appreciated that they had privacy within their suite, yet the opportunity to socialize with others when they were outside of it. Having people around was especially important to Margaret, because she had always been involved in a lot of community activities. In recent years, she had given up most of these activities because her limited mobility had made it increasingly difficult to drive, especially in the winter months.
As the time grew closer for them to return to their house, they realized they had more independence and freedom and less stress and worry living in the retirement residence. Margaret and Ben decided to sell their home and stay.
After Margaret’s leg was fully healed, she started to go on many of the outings that were available. She made friends and realized that she had been isolated in their house. Their kids had continued to visit regularly, but many of their friends had either moved or were also coping with health and mobility issues.
About six months later, Ben had a small stroke and needed some support while he was rehabilitating. Fortunately, personal care was available at the retirement residence so they didn’t need to move to get the help Ben needed.
Margaret also encountered a few health challenges that required hospitalization over the next couple of years. Both she and her children felt better knowing that Ben would not have to worry about meals and that people were watching out for him until she got back home.
When Margaret passed away before Ben, their children were thankful that their dad was already living in a retirement residence. He had always been a bit shy and relied on Margaret to arrange their social life. They knew that if he were still living in their old house, he would have been isolated and lonely. In the retirement residence, he continued to eat dinner with the people he and Margaret had dined with and to socialize with the friends they had made together. The support given to Ben made it much easier for him to cope with the loss of his wife.
When I spoke with Ben and Margaret’s children, Jenn and Brian, they told me they were surprised by how relieved they were that their parents had made this choice. Prior to the move, Jenn had been helping with grocery shopping and cooked for her parents when her mom wasn’t well. Brian was managing many of the household repairs. Once their parents moved, their visits were no longer about doing chores. Instead they would often take Margaret and Ben out to eat or to their homes, or stayed in and play cards. Jenn and Brian felt they got to really enjoy the last years with their parents, rather than just being focused on helping them manage their lives.
Ben and Margaret are like many people I’ve come to know throughout the years. They may have resisted moving out of a family home they’ve lived in for decades, then find when they move to a retirement residence they regain freedom and independence. In times of health challenges, retirement residences can often adapt to changing care needs, allowing you to “age in place.” And the benefits extend to their family members who may have been spending a lot of time and energy trying to keep them in their original home. When you choose a continuum of care retirement home like Ben and Margaret did, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that if your needs change (or that of your spouse), staff you’ve already come to know and trust can deliver services that can adapt with you, no move required.
Retirement living was a solution that was right for Ben and Margaret, as it provided them with a comfortable, worry-free lifestyle that allowed them to spend time together on activities they enjoyed. Relationships often become easier and more fun with less stress.
You may be exploring whether it is time to think about a move, too. Take Chartwell’s “Am I Ready?” Survey to assess whether the timing is right for retirement living.
*All names have been changed to protect privacy
Dr. Amy is a certified senior advisor, Vice President of the International Federation on Aging, and Co-Founder of the Essential Conversations Project. As a gerontological social worker, she has over thirty years of experience working with older adults and their families.