Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Choosing to thrive, not just survive

Many of us probably feel that in the last few months we have been surviving, rather than thriving. There certainly have been a lot of difficult things to manage, but the social isolation of being apart from those we love may be one of the hardest things we have had to endure.

Unfortunately, even in non-COVID times, social isolation is an issue for far too many older people. In an attempt to stay “independent,” many people remain in their homes beyond when that living arrangement serves them. They may find that too much of their time and energy is spent on daily household tasks or maintenance, or that driving in our Canadian winters has gotten more difficult, or that getting together with friends and family has gotten more challenging, all resulting in too much time spent alone, and frequently lonely.

Retirement living has always offered a welcome alternative that addresses many of these issues. In retirement residences, there is the opportunity to still have the privacy of your own suite while having companionship nearby when you want it. And of course, the freedom from household chores and maintenance means that time can be spent enjoying friends, hobbies and other recreational activities. There is also a real feeling of security when you know people are close if some need arises.

When my parents were getting older, I encouraged them to consider retirement living. My dad was resistant. He had a lot of beliefs about what living in a retirement residence would be like. He said that they are filled with “old people” and he didn’t feel old. Because of those beliefs, my parents remained in a home that was a bit isolated far longer than I would have hoped. I was concerned what would happen to my dad if my mom passed before he did. For example, his main source of social contact were the home care workers that took care of my mom after her stroke.

Finally, I convinced my dad to take an objective look at retirement living. They did move into a retirement residence and, within six months my dad said, “I wish we had done this move years earlier. It’s so much better than I could have imagined.” I have heard this same sentiment expressed by countless people during my career working with and on behalf of older adults.

My father found that the other people in his retirement residence were like him; still wanting to enjoy life to the fullest. And, in the midst of caregiving for my mom, my dad hadn’t had the time or the ability to socialize while also managing the house. Now there were people with whom he could take a walk, or enjoy a cup of coffee and a chat, and there were fun outings he could go on. He became happier and engaged in life again.

You may be wondering, but what about now? Is it safe to consider retirement living during COVID? It’s important to get the facts so you can make up your own mind. It’s true that nursing homes have had a very difficult time during COVID, but retirement living is very different from being in a long term care home. Remember, you have your own suite in retirement living so, when necessary, you can be apart from other people. The best thing you can do is to explore the retirement residences that appeal to you and ask questions about how they have maintained a safe environment during COVID-19, and how successful they were at doing so. Likely you will be pleasantly surprised by how they have helped their residents remain safe while still offering them many of the benefits of retirement living. And it will allow you to compare how you have lived the last few months in your own home with how you might have been able to live in a retirement residence.

Perhaps someday we will give up the belief that living in a house for as long as possible as we age means we are more independent. True independence means living the way you want to live in an environment that allows you to thrive and have the freedom to do the things you want to do. You deserve that, at every stage of life.

To learn more about the safe and social lifestyle at Chartwell, including our safety measures, visit today.