What To Expect In a Retirement Community

Relax! Take a deep breath! What you’re feeling is perfectly and completely normal and expected. You’re dealing with a huge, and possibly one of your largest, life changes.

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Moving from your normal home environment to a retirement community is a huge, often emotionally charged, adjustment. Most people spend 99% of their time prior to making the big move focusing solely on the moving process itself - mainly the physical move (including having to sort through all of their things and deciding what to take with them) and the associated emotional distress. However, there is an additional component to consider prior to your move… what you should expect in the first few weeks following actually moving in and getting settled in your new home.

Once your things have all been moved and you’re sitting in your new room staring at empty walls and unpacked boxes, you may really start to feel the enormity of the situation. Relax! Take a deep breath! What you’re feeling is perfectly and completely normal and expected. You’re dealing with a huge, and possibly one of your largest, life changes.

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Where Should I Start?

One of the best ways to take your mind off of things is to really take your time unpacking and organizing your things. Finding the perfect place for each picture on your wall or the dresser, arranging books in a certain way on the bookshelf, hanging your clothes in your closet… these seemingly mundane things can focus your attention and help you relieve some of the stress that you may feel after everyone has left.

Meet Your New Roommate!

In addition, if you have a new roommate, set aside some time in the first few days to really get to know them. If you had the time to meet them prior to your move, that can relieve some of the first day jitters many people feel when moving in with a new person, but if you didn’t have a chance to, don’t fret. Although first introductions can be scary and difficult, it can be easier if you understand that your new roommate is likely feeling the exact same way! Play some breaking the ice games, or have a staff member help moderate the first hour or so after you get things unpacked to help make it a little less awkward. This can be one of the hardest parts of moving into a new retirement community, but it can also lead to fulfilling, new relationships that you didn’t expect.

Meet The Staff!

Another part of the first few weeks in a retirement community is learning and interacting with the staff. If you came from a single family home environment into a full facility, it can feel slightly demoralizing to be faced with an abundance of staff often required to run these types of communities. Feeling like your every move is being watched can feel not great, but it can help if you take the time to meet and interact with them. Personalizing them, and personalizing yourself to them, can make it feel like more of a family and less of a medical setting. These people will be your caregivers, whether while serving you lunch, helping you with activities of daily living (like dressing and bathing, if needed), or running bingo. Get to know them as soon as you can.

Check Out Your New Home's Activities and Programs

Another thing to do in your new retirement community after all of your things are unpacked and put away is to see if your new facility has any orientation programs. While not always offered, these types of programs can help ease your transition by introducing you to the different activities as well as showing you where everything is. A lot of the stress of moving is having your life changed around to the point where you can often feel physically lost, which can add to the difficulty. Having a staff member show you around, making sure you’re aware of where the cafeteria is, where activities are held (and what time/days/etc), where fun parts of the retirement home are located (movie room, bird cage, etc) can make you feel more at home in your new home than you trying to find everything yourself.

One other tip for thriving in the first few weeks after your move to your new retirement community is to not only find out about the daily activities offered in your new home, but also to take the time to try some out. It can be tempting to retreat into your room and be solitary, but putting yourself out there and getting involved can help. Even if you’re not normally a bingo player, or a story time person, give it a shot. You might be surprised at how enjoyable it can be, and you’ll meet both the staff and other residents. Socialization during the first few weeks can feel counterintuitive, but pushing yourself to go to at least a few activities and programs can help break up the transition in fun, unexpected ways. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover a new hobby!

What if I Get Lost?

Depending on the reason that you’re making the move to a retirement community, you may still find the transition disorienting. This is also totally expected and normal. Don’t feel embarrassed or self conscious about asking for help. Retirement communities were made with your safety in mind, and most of the entrances to the outside or to more dangerous areas of the facility that you shouldn’t need access to are monitored and alarmed. If you get lost or confused, find a staff member. They can help you find your room, or the cafeteria, or the shower room. If you need help regularly, it can also be helpful to wear a bracelet that has your room number on it. Sometimes this easy, simple reminders can not only help you find your way back, but also help you continue to feel independent during a transition that you be mentally difficult. There is no harm in needing a little help to physically find your way, especially in some of the larger retirement communities.

What If I Need Help Adjusting?

If you seem to be having a more difficult time adjusting, make sure you don’t judge yourself too harshly. This can be an overwhelming time in your life emotionally, and most facilities are prepared to help you through that. People often complain of trouble sleeping, excessive crying, or feelings of depression. Often, retirement communities are staffed with their own counselors to help people manage some of the more extreme feelings associated with such large life changes. These trained professionals can help you if you’re really feeling lost, sad, anxious, or any other emotion that you don’t feel like you can work through on your own. Seeking mental health help is normal, anticipated, and encouraged in these types of situations, so don’t be afraid to ask for it.

Any Lasts Tips?

A commonly suggested tip from many mental health professionals trained to assist with these types of situations is that, to help your transition be as painless as possible, it is generally recommended that you not have family come visit or take you out of the retirement community for the first few weeks. While it may seem like seeing them or leaving would help you, it actually works in the opposite direction. Seeing your family, or being reminded of what you may be doing should you have moved into a retirement community can actually set you back emotionally and make it harder to truly adjust to your new home. Let a few weeks, or up to a month, pass before allowing visitors and day trips. However, phone calls and cards are absolutely encouraged to help keep your morale up.

The first few weeks in a retirement community can be fraught with a huge range of emotions, from excitement to fear, or confusion. Know that no way you are feeling is “wrong,” and that plenty of help is available, should you need it, to make your transition as smooth and positive as possible. It doesn’t have to be a negative experience, and preparing in advance can be a tremendous help. Good luck with your move!

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