At age 86, Anna Ruben decided on her own to move to Riverview Towers after living for 40 years in Florida.
After being widowed for 15 years, she decided it was time to come back to her hometown of Pittsburgh, and downsize.
“It was the best decision I ever made,” Rubin said.
However, she noted, it’s not always a simple decision.
“I think the decision to make a move should come from the person himself [or herself],” said Ruben, who has a doctorate in higher education. “It’s when family members intervene and say you’re having a hard time taking care of your own place, and it would be good for you to move, that you can resent it and get angry.”
In the best of all possible worlds, a senior citizen would recognize when it is time to move out of the house in which he has lived for decades, and into a more manageable and protected space.
That doesn’t always happen. Sometimes a family member may need to encourage the move in order to safeguard the welfare of an elder loved one.
“It’s a change, and with seniors, change is difficult,” said Phyllis Cohen, director of programming at Riverview Towers, a retirement living community in Squirrel Hill.
It can be daunting for a senior citizen to even think of downsizing a lifetime of possessions into a one-bedroom or studio apartment, Cohen added. She said many reasons influence the decision to move to a retirement facility.
“More often than not, it’s family members who help them make that decision [to move],” she said. “Sometimes it’s too hard to keep the house up; sometimes it’s a financial reason, and sometimes they’re lonely.”
There are signs for concerned relatives or friends to look for when determining if it is in a loved one’s best interest to make a move, said Hanna Steiner, executive director of Riverview Towers.
“Does the house look as if handling housework is more difficult?” Steiner asked. “Is the yard more neglected? Has your loved one taken a bath recently? Did he change clothes? Are the clothes stained? Did he lose weight? Are there piles of mail? Are keys in their regular place?”
Other signs that a senior citizen may be ready to move to a retirement community include forgetting doctors’ appointments, and having difficulty negotiating public transportation or driving, according to Steiner.
“The conversation on the need to move to senior housing will be tough; do not kid yourself,” Steiner said. “But remember to talk about the positive side of change: an opportunity to start fresh, buy a new piece of furniture, make some new friends, eat in the company of others, fewer house chores. Talk about how it is important to you to know that they are in a safer place. Do not talk about what they lose, but rather what they can gain.”
What one can gain at some senior facilities is piece of mind, said Steiner, as personnel regularly check on residents, meals are provided, and social activities are offered.
Still, if a senior citizen is not ready to make the move, Ruben said pushing for it may cause more harm than good.
She believes the success of moving depends on whether the senior feels ready, and not on whether others feel it is time for him to move.
“When they [seniors] get pushed from others, it makes the move much more difficult,” she said. “People who push them have to keep validating the move, asking ‘Aren’t you glad you’re there? Didn’t we do the right thing?’ It is important for elderly adults to do it on their own.”
Ruben believes that moving to a retirement facility — at the right time — can greatly enrich someone’s life.
“The most wonderful thing is you are with other people in similar circumstances,” she said. “I have met so many lovely human beings.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)