Later Life Transitions to a Retirement Community

The transition to a retirement community, like an assisted living facility or possibly a nursing home, is a challenge that so many families and individuals face. Families may come to the difficult decision that a move is the best option for many reasons. Coming to that decision can be one of the most difficult pieces. In this article about Adelle, an older adult during a health crisis and life transition, the decision to move to a long-term care facility was dependent on a doctor. Another difficult piece to this very complex puzzle is considering what it is like to transition and actually living in a new community- a new residence, with new neighbors, and new surroundings.

Put yourself in these old shoes!

Let’s say you are 88 and you have lived in your farm house for 50 years. For the past 15 years you have lived there alone, after your spouse passed away. Now, you are moving to an assisted living facility. You will have three rooms: a bedroom, living room, and kitchen. You know no one in the facility you are moving to. Part of the decision to move was based on your childrens’ concern that you may reach a point when you need extra care. You wonder if it is possible to stay at home with extra help: outside resources, like home health care. Although you can take good care of yourself, you do see the benefit of having some meals cooked for you and other activities available at your finger tips. Also, you want to make your children happy.

Is it comparable to other life transitions?

Do we as professionals truly understand how it is to make this type of move? We may have done it ourselves when we went to college, particularly if you moved into the dorms and lived away from your family on campus. You had to make a transition, which others your age were also going through. Maybe an upper class-man helped you find a classroom when you were lost, or offered suggestions for the best bar restaurant close to campus. Now, you are 88 and moving again into a community of those your age and in very similar situations as you. Maybe your new neighbor or roommate, who has lived there for 5 years, reminds you that it is dinner time and helps you find the dining hall by walking with you. Then, someone you met at bingo suggested you attend the movie nights, because she is in charge of the movie committee and guarantees the flick will be good. Integrating into a new community, can also have its challenges. Katrina Wells shares Tips for Successful Living with a Nursing Home Roommate, showing us that mutual respect and good communication can help with a transition to a nursing facility. And in many cases, the match is not compatible and a move is necessary. Are these experiences similar: moving to college as a young adult and moving to a long-term care facility as an older adult? I would argue that they do share a lot of similarities, but there is a very big piece that is different for the 88 year old. At 88 you have experienced so much more than when you were 19 going to college. You may have raised a family, or established yourself in a career, and perhaps have even found out who you are in the process. At 19 you may have been on a path to self-discovery, but at 88, are you still on that same path? These are some interesting questions, which may help us as geriatric professionals truly understand this transition.

Can we REALLY understand this experience?

Steve Gurney, age 43 and author of Guide to Retirement Living SourceBook, a resource that provides families with details regarding senior living options, is now living experiencing this very transition. Gurney has moved into an assisted living facility and is now journaling his experience. His focus is on his emotions regarding this hard transition. Read more about Steve Gurney’s project as at 43 year old in retirement community. This sounds like a very interesting and exciting experience to put yourself through as a professional. It is the ultimate “walk in their shoes” type of project. However, Gurney is 43, he is not 88. He has not necessarily had the full life experience many of the residents in these facilities have had. He may not have the physical disabilities many residents have, or the constant concern that his memory is going bad. There may be some benefits to noting the transition into a community that you are new to. However, to improve our professional understanding of this type a of transition to a long-term care facility, perhaps it is better to ask ‘real’ new residents to journal their own emotions and experiences as they make this transition into a new community. There are some notable differences between what Gurney is experiencing and what real residents may go through.
  • Gurney choose to go into this facility; many others have had been the influenced of by their family to make this decision.
  • Gurney can leave and go back to his four bedroom house; other residents may permanently downsize, never to see many of their belongings again
  • Some residents may feel this is where they will inevitability die.
  • Many residents may feel abandoned by their family or lonely; yet Gurney is at the age where he can raise a family, and meet his grandkids.

Let’s not Forget the Positive Side

I realize that a lot of what I think of as a part of the move to a retirement or nursing residence is pretty grim, and does not represent the experiences of those who actually live through it. There are many positives to this experience that should be considered as well. For example, the ease of living in a smaller environment, less to clean, no need to cook, easy access and safe environments to accommodate physical changes, the element of added socialization for a population that tends to be isolated, transportation to outside activities, on-call nurses and quick access to health care, extra supervision and watchful eyes, etc and etc. I feel an interesting project about the transition to and life in a retirement community would be best represented by video blogging, or writing and posting personal experiences on the internet by the actual residents. Only then can we can get the inside scoop of how it feels to move into a new community of their peers, with often with the added complication of health issues pushing the move forward. This post was edited by Kristen Pavle **Thanks for the picture k4dordy


  • Janice Flinner

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. I would add that while we’ve all experienced transitions of one sort or another (positive and negative), we don’t always recognize the skills we utilized or developed to successfully make the transition. As professionals we can help those entering into retirement community living examine other transitions in their lives, reframing the situation if necessary. Sometimes the events of youth need to be revisited through the eyes of the elder in order to take possession of the skills they utilized earlier in life. Life review, especially in a group format, is an excellent activity and method to help the transitioning person see their strengths and utilize them in a new situation.

  • Jaimie Robinson

    Thanks for the great comments Janice. I really like the idea of using our past transitions as a tool for coping with current moves to retirement settings. I would love to learn more about Life Review as a group format and method of help for transitions. Is this something you have written on, or could write more about for those like myself who would love to learn more? Maybe we will see your take on Life Review as a web article here on the Chicago Bridge?

  • Janice Flinner

    I’d be happy to write something up for a web article Jaimie. Let me know the particulars about submitting an article, and I’ll get you one!

  • Katrena Wells

    Thanks so much for linking to my article about how roommates in a long-term care facility can be proactive as they prepare to live together. You brought up some good points regarding this life transition. Many seniors have made life with a roommate work very nicely. Many seniors have learned to be flexible over the years, and learning to live with someone else in close quarters can certainly test those waters!

  • Nursing Home Utah

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