Making the Transition to a Retirement Community

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Downsizing and moving to a retirement facility can be a difficult lifestyle change. Here, what you need to know.

Alice Robertson, 81, didn’t plan on making the transition to a retirement community for another three or four years. But she was driving past Delmanor Prince Edward in Toronto one day when she noticed the facility was just opening.

“I thought, hmm, this place is right near home and if I get in there now, I could pick my own suite,” Robertson says in an interview with Zoomer. “So why don’t I do it?”

While it may sound like a spur-of-the-moment decision, Robertson had been considering the move for more than two years. Maintaining the large home she had lived in for 45 years was a huge responsibility, one that her two daughters were not always comfortable with.

Downsizing and moving to a retirement facility can be a difficult lifestyle change. “When you’ve lived in your home for a long time, you’re familiar with it. You have a whole lifetime of memories there,” says Karen Pivnick, owner of Topcat Relocation Transition Solutions.

Despite the modern facilities with restaurant-grade meals, housekeeping and a full calendar of social activities, retirement communities are still fighting to break the stigmas of senior-assisted living.

It’s important to focus on finding the right community for the individual – to choose a place that puts the residents first, Pivnick says.

Once a decision on a facility has been made, there’s the task of sorting through decades of belongings. “It’s overwhelming,” says Pivnick. “We’re so caught up in the material world and accumulating all of these things. The emotional attachment is huge. But letting go is so worth it.”

Topcat supports clients through the entire downsizing process, from comparing costs of living and choosing the right facility to sorting through possessions and getting the house on the market. They also assist with the physical move, which includes unpacking everything and even hanging artwork on the walls. They try to mimic the look of the client’s home to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

“My main mandate is to keep my client in control, making sure they’re in charge of their decisions and their decisions are respected and carried through,” Pivnick says.

It’s a mandate she suggests boomer kids try to follow as well when helping their parents navigate through this transition.

“When people are making this decision to move out of their home, they feel like they’re losing part of their identity, they’re losing control,” she says. “So that can be challenging, and the kids will challenge them because sometimes they have their own sense of loss.”

If you’re supporting your parent(s) through this change, consider taking them to lunch at a retirement facility on a Saturday afternoon, just to see what it’s like. Whatever you do, let them arrive at the decision themselves and be prepared to take it slow.

“For me, it’s been a very gradual transition, not a sudden change,” says Robertson. Although she’s only been at Delmanor for one month, she’s happy to be rid of the burden of her house and she’s enjoying meeting new people.

“I think most of these retirement homes are much the same – they have good food and lots of friendly staff and lots of organized things for you to do,” she says. “You can do as much or as little as you want. And I haven’t done very much yet but I’m planning to do a lot as I get used to the idea.”