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Blog Post

February 21, 2019

"Making the Big Move: Finding the right social fit is the key to happiness in a senior-living community"

Take a look at our feature in Richmond Magazine, highlighting our Chickahominy Falls community!

By Alexa Nash
Credit: Richmond Magazine

A major change can be daunting for just about anyone, but for seniors who have lived in the same home for decades, leaving their most comfortable place can be a traumatic experience. As humans age, they tend to hold on to the familiar, beginning with their homes. It takes ample preparation to make the transition into a senior-living community in a positive way. 

Catherine MacDonald, gerontologist and director of strategy and innovation with the Greater Richmond Age Wave and No Wrong Door, has been conducting research on what leads to social dissatisfaction and social isolation in older adults. The most significant factor for seniors is experiencing a major transition such as moving out of a home they have lived in for decades.

MacDonald says social connectedness is the foundation on which to base a decision to move out of a lifetime home. “It has such a huge, huge, huge impact on a person and their psychological development and growth,” she says. “Being socially isolated has the same repercussions as being morbidly obese or being an alcoholic. I would advise folks to make sure that if they want to make a move like this, they’re going somewhere that’s going to be protective of their social supports and that fits their social personality.”

"Make sure it’s a place where you feel as many connections as you can.” Adele Maclean, Richmond Cohousing Member

If you are planning a move for yourself or a loved one, look for a community that offers a lifestyle that’s as similar to the current one as possible. It wouldn’t make sense for an introvert to move to a community that continually encourages activities and deep involvement when that wasn’t a natural part of his or her previous life.

“As we grow older, we become more different than other people,” MacDonald says. “We become more of ourselves, so it’s hard to find answers that are one-size-fits-all.”

That can make deciding what kind of community would best fit an individual’s wants and needs daunting. 

MacDonald says that Age Wave has found that about 96 percent of people prefer to live at home. 

Thelma Watson, executive director of Senior Connections, says the biggest worry she sees among aging individuals is that they won’t be able to care for themselves. “They can approach alleviating this worry by planning ahead as much as possible,” she says. Cost, location, accessibility and amenities are the most important factors to consider when making a move.

The Richmond area is home to myriad 55 and older communities fit for a variety of needs, from the traditional senior living of Westminster Canterbury to a brand new agri-community in Hanover County. Each offers amenities that cater to a person’s social needs, personality or hobbies.

One nontraditional approach to housing for aging adults is cohousing. Richmond Cohousing is slated to break ground in Richmond’s Manchester neighborhood this spring. This diverse, multigenerational, urban community will feature 19 single-level one-, two- and three-bedroom units on four floors. Residents will cook and dine together in a large common space and share a rooftop deck for recreation and container gardening. The goal of cohousing is to create a diverse, close-knit community among the members, which can be extremely beneficial for older adults.

Rachel Lucy, a Richmond Cohousing member, says the exposure to a wide range of ages is one of the most beneficial aspects of cohousing. Current members range in age from their 20s to 80s.

“[There are] younger people around who can help with occasional physically demanding tasks, a supportive community who will check on them to make sure they’re OK … and inherent social opportunities can help combat loneliness that accompanies retirement,” Lucy says.

The cohousing development will have amenities that cater to those 55 and older, including elevator accessibility, wide doorways, the option for a walk-in shower and easy access to light switches and power outlets. 

Adele Maclean and her husband are members of Richmond Cohousing. She was drawn to the concept when her husband and daughter started having trouble climbing the stairs in their home of 30 years. The biggest draw to the cohousing community was the generational diversity. “That clicked for me, there wasn’t anything like that,” she says. “All of that young life speaks to me.” 

Another new take on senior living is Woodside Meadows at Chickahominy Falls, an agri-community being developed by Cornerstone Homes in Hanover County. The new-construction single-level homes are 2,200 square feet or less and are fully accessible. 

When completed, the neighborhood will include a farm-to-table restaurant, a fitness studio, expansive lawns and an outdoor pool. The cornerstone feature of the neighborhood is a four-season farm to feed both the residents’ health and social needs.

“We have a farm right outside your doorstep, where you can choose to work or not choose to work,” says Kirsten Nease, marketing director. “We’re the only agri-community geared only for 55-plus in the country.”

The most traditional type of senior living community is a facility offering all-inclusive amenities. Westminster Canterbury in Richmond is a retirement community that provides classes and community activities, a variety of dining options, art exhibits and productions, transportation services and 24-hour nursing care for those who need more assistance. 

Despite the numerous choices for aging adult communities in the Richmond area, making the big decision to leave a lifelong home is a difficult one. Maclean offers this advice from her own experience: “To anyone who is thinking about a community, make sure it’s a place where you feel as many connections as you can. I think the real key is shared values.”

By Alexa Nash
Credit: Richmond Magazine


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