Most people, given a choice, would prefer to remain in their homes until they die. Personally, I dread the day that I might no longer be able to live independently. I like my home, my library, my garden, my “stuff”. No retirement village for me! I’ll live here until I die – quietly in my sleep.
That is, unless I don’t. And none of us can know the future.
A week ago, I had an opportunity to visit Monarch Landing, a retirement community in Naperville, Illinois, that is built and maintained by Erickson Retirement Communities, owned and operated by the man, John Erickson, who owns Retirement Living Television.
The occasion was an in-house fair for residents and any others from the surrounding area who wanted to attend. More than 500 people took part in health screenings, musical performances, Wii games (which are highly popular with residents), face painting and other activities for children, a lot of good food and the opportunity to find out what living at Monarch Landing is all about.
Before that weekend, I had never been to a retirement community, had no idea what to expect and why should I? Retirement places are not a hot topic with the general population of present-day America and no one tells us what it is really like. So I arrived ignorant - and left having learned a lot.
What I found was a vibrant group of about 150 residents ranging from age 62 to 90. The community is new, still being built and will eventually house several hundred residents and include an assisted living area, respite care, Alzheimer’s care and long-term care. The majority get around on their own two feet. A few use canes, walkers or scooters.
From the outside, Monarch Landing looks like any modern apartment complex in a suburban setting – brick facade, attractive landscaping, a glass-walled swimming pool, a putting green, pleasant walkways, an area for individual gardens. In the community building there are two restaurants, a fitness center, computer center, meeting rooms for residents’ activities – gardening and books and current affairs clubs, etc. – a theater, a gift and deli shop, mail room, on-site medical center and such.
As I said, it looks like any well-maintained apartment complex anywhere in America - except it is full of elders. The only kids are visiting grandchildren which is encouraged.
While I was there, I spoke with a lot of the residents all of whom are happy with their choice. One of them gave me a stern wakeup call.
Sharon Morse is 63 years old, a retired special education administrator who moved to Monarch Landing in October 2006, when it opened. She visited many retirement communities before choosing this one and did a prodigious amount of homework. The complexities of the various kinds of elder living are many and government regulations are as complicated as you would expect. Sharon appears to have all that knowledge under control and made her decision accordingly.
Like many other residents I spoke with, Sharon traded her home for Monarch Landing because she doesn’t want to move again in her lifetime and she tired of the maintenance and ongoing upkeep of a house.
But Sharon also gave me three of the most compelling reasons I’ve ever heard to seriously consider a retirement community:
Not Becoming a Burden
In past discussions about late life here at Time Goes By, pretty much everyone who commented expressed their strong desire – even need – to not become a burden to their children. Readers were referring to the possibility of such conditions as Alzheimer’s or becoming permanently disabled in some other way.
But Sharon goes further and earlier with this thought. She does not want to be nagging her children to help with errands and chores that inevitably become difficult or impossible for some elders: mowing the lawn, moving some furniture, changing lightbulbs, picking up a prescription or, when the time comes to give up driving, taking us to the store, and all the other needs that will come up.
As Sharon spoke, I was reminded of the times in my life when someone has said with a sigh, “you know, we must make time to go paint Gran’s living room.” Perhaps we don’t realize how often we call on relatives and friends to help out and that is a kind of burden too.
Making One’s Own Decisions
Sharon, who is a decidedly no-nonsense sort of person, also said she chose a retirement community because she did not want to “let things just happen”. These days, hospital stays are about as short as a trip to the supermarket. They throw you out almost as soon as the anesthesia wears off.
So if you have a stroke or heart attack, for example, or have undergone a hip replacement, you will likely be in no condition to do the research as quickly as you will need it for the right kind of follow-up care in a rehab or nursing facility that suits you. Sharon knows that at Monarch Landing, should the need arise, she can move into the community’s continuing care area of assisted living or full-time nursing, not forced into a care facility she would not choose for herself.
“[Monarch Landing] may look like a hotel,” says Sharon, “but it’s not.”
Building a Community of Friends
If, as in the case of a stroke or heart attack, the need for support turns up suddenly, there will be no friends yet at a community an elder moves into. By planning for the future in this way, Sharon says, she is making new friends with like-minded interests now and knows they will be there for one another with the support, caring and companionship everyone needs.
Would I move into Monarch Landing? No. I’m a city girl and it’s in a suburb an hour from Chicago. Would I live in a place like Monarch Landing if it were in a city? A week ago, I would have said never, unless I am forced. This week, I’m not so sure.
Sharon Morse gave me a dose of reality about getting old and making plans while you’re still capable that I had not taken seriously. Something I have rejected out of hand in the past is now a possibility I will investigate further.
This is not a promotion for Erickson Retirement Communities. For a long time, I’ve been meaning to survey for us the many choices for retirement living there are today. The idea, over time, was to look into retirement communities, nursing homes, assisted living, co-housing, new types of communes and other individual choices for community living. But there are so many variables, so much information, so many differing philosophies that the research never ended.
Visiting Monarch Landing gave me a place, at last, to start. There are thousands of such communities throughout the United States I could have written about, but the Erickson people invited me to visit, so they win.
If you are interested, keep in mind that all communities operate differently. Take a leaf from Sharon’s book and do your homework, visit a variety of communities, read the fine print, talk to residents, investigate the financial structure, compare and then make your decision.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, kenju is back with More Childhood Memories about a chicken coop, snakes, paper dolls, scraped knees, ghost stories, picnics and more.]