In last week’s blog post, I shared yet another study that has found that overall, people who choose to move to a retirement community, such as a continuing care retirement community (CCRC, or life plan community) are happier and healthier than their counterparts who remain in their existing home. In that post, I did mention the fact that these health and happiness benefits may not happen instantly upon moving to a CCRC, however. I think this is an important point to discuss.
In talking with CCRC residents, I do occasionally hear about a “transition period” where they had to make a variety of emotional adjustments to adapt to moving to and living in a retirement community. In fact, I received an email from CCRC resident and thought-leader Dr. Harvey Austin, M.D., just this week, which shares his experience and observations around this very issue. (In a previous post, I shared Dr. Austin’s perspectives on moving to StoneRidge, a CCRC located in Mystic, Connecticut.)
“The Fog That Follows Change”
In his note this week, Dr. Austin shared that he has coined a term for the bumpy transition period that some people experience upon moving to a CCRC: The Fog That Follows Change. He says, “I believe ‘The Fog’ to be normal, common (perhaps universal), and it can last for months, perhaps years.” He explains that while he felt his move to a CCRC was “pleasant, desirable, and safe,” some residents feel they were “uprooted” or “dumped” there by their loved ones.
He goes on to say that while moving to a CCRC has been an extremely positive experience for him, it does involve giving up some things—perhaps a house you raised a family in and some possessions that just won’t fit into a smaller home—so it’s common to feel some sense of loss, or even grief, during the period of “The Fog.”
Dr. Austin describes all new residents as “immigrants-to-this-new-land.” He says some who are new to a CCRC see it as moving to a “cruise ship” or as a “summer camp for olders.” But he notes that some view their move and their new home at the CCRC as “the waiting room of the funeral parlor.” Whichever way you perceive your CCRC move is your reality, and it is normal to feel whatever you are feeling, whether that’s excitement, fear, joy, sadness, relief, or loneliness.
A CCRC move IS a life change
I believe that Dr. Austin has hit the nail on the head with his analysis of “The Fog,” and I truly appreciate and admire his honesty around this sometimes-sensitive subject. It is undeniable that, as with any major change, the move to a CCRC is life-altering. All of these thoughts and feelings Dr. Austin mentions are normal and legitimate.
In my conversations with CCRC residents across the country, I’ve heard about many of these same pain points, but I also hear that after a period of time, the vast majority of residents turn the corner and grow to love their new home.
I believe a big part of this transition for new residents has to do with making connections within a new community. I often say that a retirement community isn’t the mere structure; it’s not just a place. The “community” is the people, and hopefully, if it’s a well-run organization, the staff is also considered part of that community. But a community is built on relationships, and relationships take time.
>> Related: In a Good Place: Enjoying Retirement in a CCRC
What you can do to deal with “The Fog”
More and more CCRCs are acknowledging the difficulty that some new residents experience in the first months or even years in their new home. I recently had a conversation with several CCRC executives to discuss how communities can improve their orientation process to better address this issue and help ease the transition for their new residents.
For some CCRCs, it may be as simple as validating the feelings that their new residents are having—in essence, saying, “While we are glad you have chosen to live here, and we believe you’ll ultimately find fulfillment, but we also recognize that this is a time of transition that can bring a whole host of emotions. We’re here to walk with you through this.”
In his note, Dr. Austin shared a list of specific ways he believes new CCRC residents can address and deal with their own experiences with “The Fog.”
- Notice your feelings and acknowledge that they are normal and legitimate.
- Talk about the emotions you are feeling, either with a friend, a loved one, or with a counselor.
- See what orientation services your CCRC offers to aide with the transition process—perhaps a buddy system or small groups to socialize and share similar feelings.
- Say “yes” to all invitations and opportunities to meet new people and get involved in your new community.
- Tell the truth when asked, “How are you?”
- Be kind and patient with yourself. Don’t forget self-care, whether that’s a small sweet treat or a peaceful walk in the woods.
- Give it time. While these feelings are real and valid, they do eventually pass.
All of these tips are beneficial as you adapt to your new home and surroundings. But perhaps most important is to remember is that “The Fog” is normal. As Dr. Austin notes, “It does not mean there is ‘something wrong with you.’ Rather it is a condition that points to ‘something that is right with you.’”
Your feelings are normal…whatever they may be
Just this week, I spoke with some CCRC residents about the emotions surrounding their transition to a CCRC. They said that, personally, they didn’t have the experience that Dr. Austin refers to as “The Fog.” These particular residents said they loved it immediately, though they also emphasized that attitude is so important, and I wholeheartedly agree.
But the bigger point is that we all handle things differently, and for some, the transition to a CCRC can be a little bumpier than for others—including “The Fog” that Dr. Austin describes. However, I also know that many CCRC residents have told me that, even though they experienced some mixed emotions about their move, they eventually settled in. They began to develop new friendships, and truly started to love their new community more than they ever thought they would—in many cases, ultimately leading to the types of positive changes in overall quality of life revealed by the studies I shared last week.
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