Is a retirement community for everyone? What is the alternative?
A reader sends me, in response to an earlier posting, this entry from a retirement discussion group:
We’ve been living in a 55+ community in Arizona for about a year and a half now, and it’s a mixed bag. Yes, the area is lovely, our views are incredible, there are great amenities, but those aren’t exclusive to a 55+ community. When you go through the sales office, see the gorgeously-appointed models, get a tour of the community and the indoor and outdoor amenities, even go for a dinner with a resident couple, you really don’t get a feel for what your life will really be like.We are finding that we’re awfully far from restaurants, shopping, the downtown area of the closest urban hub, our church, etc. You really have to drive those things before you buy.We also find that we are on the younger end of the age continuum here — many people are our parents age, they aren’t really “active” adults at all, would probably do better in an assisted living community at this point. So many people are working longer that they are retiring in their 70s, which means they’re not up for triathalons or marathons or hiking or road cycling, mountain biking, etc. Many of us 50-somethings are still really into those things. I was yelled at for running in the street (there are no sidewalks) by an old woman who said her vision wasn’t what it used to be, so my presence endangered her!Retirement communities can be cliquish and gossipy. There are a lot of people with nothing to do buy spy on others, complain, report, etc. Also, every amenity has some self-appointed know-it-all who has designated him or herself the boss of everyone else.Drinking/alcoholism is a real problem. Boredom, isolation and depression among seniors is probably the driver of this, but I’ve seen way too many people who have obviously been drinking since breakfast tooling around in golf-carts here. They think it’s okay because they’re not driving, but it’s really a safety hazard, plus it’s kind of sad to be around.Rent before you buy, seriously. We are rethinking our decision, may be moving out before we’ve even been here two full years.
I suspect these folks would not be happy in any retirement community, as it sounds like they give a damn what other people think. But it does happen, that a retirement community might not be all you thought it would be.
A neighbor, after her husband died, decided to sell her house and move to "Swamp Shores" retirement community on nearby rich people's island. She moved back a few months later. "It's all old Republican women!" she said, "And all they do is gossip and play bridge all day!"
Of course, this was an apartment-style adult community, so I am not sure why she felt she needed to inject herself into their social scene. But maybe she missed her connections here. So she moved back home for a few years, before it became to difficult to live by herself, at which point she moved in with a daughter, who had an in-law suite. Again, it seems so typical that people move to be near to or with family members. If you don't have family members, this is not an option.
Just because you move to The Villages and they have 5,000 different activities you can do and clubs you can join, doesn't mean you have to join any of them. It can just be a place to live, like any other place. Mark and I get invited to join various groups, but we usually politely decline. Mark has the pottery guild, and that's about it. We don't need to be part of the cocktail circuit or whatever, or play Mah Jongg or Bridge or join the Golfing League.
And no, we don't need to join the Coalition to Hate Jekyll Island, nor the "Citizen's Association" or be on the island facebook page. In fact, a surprising number of people on our island are nearly invisible - the place swallows them up. You can walk by someone's house for years and never know who lives there - and that's OK, too.
It reminds me of an incident many years ago when a neighbor the next street over moved in. We were walking by their house and I introduced ourselves to them and welcomed them to the island. The gentleman was nice, but said to me, "I hope you don't take offense, but my wife and I moved here to be alone, and aren't really interested in interacting with other people or joining any groups." I nodded and said, "I understand completely! My apologies if I invaded your privacy!"
You don't have to "interact" with people just because you live next door to them. In fact, with direct neighbors, often less interaction is the best. And that's why, when some horrendous crime occurs, and they interview the next door neighbors, they all say the same thing - "they were quiet people, sometimes I would see him mowing the lawn." Of course, the news media seizes on this and characterizes the person as "obsessed about their yard!" But the reality is, I have a cordial relationship with my neighbors and that's just fine. I am not in their business and they are not in mine. Some other friends of mine, well, they are in and out of each others' houses all day long. Some folks like that sort of "community" feeling. Others do not.
But I digress.
I showed the above posting to Mr. See and he said, "You know which retirement community that is!" and it is indeed a bit isolated from the rest of civilization. But then again, we live on an island, ten miles from the nearest grocery store. We go once a week or so, which is why we have put only 26,000 miles on the Hamster in six years. It is glorious - to not have to drive every day.
Others, well, less so. We know people who leave the island nearly every day to "run errands" and whatnot. As I noted before, often the poor drive all over hell's half-acre, and to some people going out every day to a store is part of their life and they cannot fathom living without it.
But a retirement community, as the poster discovered, isn't necessarily a place for a 50-something, even if they are advertised as "over 55". If you are still young and ambulatory, such a place can be a nice vacation home at first, which is what many people at Shell Point do, while still spending the summers "up north" or traveling or going on cruises or whatever. Such places can be very handy, though, when your health goes South, which it can do, in a real hurry.
And again, living on retirement island, we see this - a lot. Men in particular are very proud and don't want to be seen as "giving up" and will hold out perhaps a little too long, relying on others to help them out and sometimes being a burden to family members or their spouse. Of course, denial of death is part and parcel of the package. If you move to a retirement community, you might as well get fitted for a coffin, right? Well, we've been here for 15 years and we ain't dead yet.
So, for example, Sam and Suzy are getting older, and Sam has a number of health issues, including cancer and recovering from a stroke. Suzy wants to move to a retirement community with "lifetime care" as they have no children they can dragoon into being unwilling eldercare workers. Sam isn't convinced, though, and says "Well, maybe when I am 80!" which is a neat way of saying "Never" as Sam ain't going to see the far side of 80, unless there is a medical miracle. Suzy fumes, as she is tired of maintaining a large house and they become house-bound. She wants to get out and do things, before it is too late. It would be ironic, but not unheard of, if she predeceased Sam. That would be a mess to clean up!
Of course, the funniest thing about the posting above is the comment that "We also find that we are on the younger end of the age continuum here ..." Well, wait a minute, that will sort itself out pretty quickly. When we moved to God's waiting room, I was 46 and Mark was 41. "You're too young to live here" one oldster told us. But 15 years later, well, we're aging into it. And we're glad we moved here, too, particularly during CoVid, where "splendid isolation" turned out to be the trick. But apparently, the person who wrote that posting is still under the impression they will be forever young and forever younger than their neighbors. But in a mere decade, they will be smack-dab in the middle of the demographic, more or less.
Of course, it pays to check out a place before you leap into it. And for many people, the idea of moving to a new place where they don't know anyone, is scary to them. How will they make friends? How will they stay in touch with their old friends? To some people, this is a frightening prospect, and they seem to believe that you have to start anew when you move, which may be the case, if you are moving across the country to a retirement community. It isn't the case when you are moving ten miles away, though.
But what I found interesting about the posting is that it fuels this irrational fear that some people have of "the old folks home" which is stereotyped as a place where everyone is in a wheelchair, wearing an adult diaper (soiled, natch) while slovenly and neglectful health care workers busy themselves playing computer solitaire and ignoring the residents' plight.
The reality is, many of these communities are just that - not unlike where you live now. Neighborhoods with houses, villas, townhomes, apartments, and other forms of independent living. Indeed, Shell Point has its own marina, and we saw many yachts parked there. These are not doddering oldsters living there, but retirees, who are enjoying life and doing things.
What is dangerous - in my mind - is that these negative stereotypes about senior living prevent a lot of people from enjoying their "golden years". Instead of doing things, they become housebound or tied to an area because they have no idea of what to do, or are afraid to make changes. A friend of mine's parents stayed "up North" in a neighborhood that quickly declined into a crime zone. Her parents would walk across a four-lane expressway to get coffee and McDonald's every day. It was amazing they were not run over - or mugged.
The problem was, of course, that they delayed and dwaddled, miserably trapped in their home, after their friends, neighbors, and family had all moved away. And pretty soon it was too late to change, because, like a hip replacement, you can't really do these things once you round the corner on 80. Better to do it sooner rather than later and enjoy life. But I know a lot of seniors, in their late 60's, who will live in pain and be unable to walk, because they are afraid of the operation. Only later - if they are lucky to get it done in time - do they realize how much of life they missed because of fear. If they wait too long, well, 80 years old it sort of too late - the anesthesia will likely kill you.
Fear is never an emotion to be trusted. It creates stasis and paralysis - the proverbial "deer in the headlights" effect.
Yes, it is possible that you may not like a particular retirement community. And renting a place there - if it is possible (such as in The Villages) might not be a bad idea. Your obligation is much less if you decide to go somewhere else.
But the opposite, I think, is even worse - to delay and vacillate at a time in your life where time is running out (much faster than you may think) is also a mistake, particularly if this is based on fear.