For many people, moving to assisted living doesn’t feel like any other move. With it — they imagine — comes a loss of privacy, control, independence, and comfort. But the best assisted living communities are nothing like the “old-folks’ homes” of yesterday. Just ask Rit, an 80-something from New York who recently moved into The Ivy at Ellington. “I like it here,” he says. “You can do whatever you want to do. It’s good living.”
But Rit wasn’t always so sure about assisted living. For many years, he was happy living in his two-bedroom apartment in Wappingers Falls, New York. He had his routine down pat: Wake up, drive to the store, come home, watch TV.
Sometimes his son and grandchildren would visit from Ellington, Connecticut, but the two-hour drive meant they didn’t see one another as often as they’d like.
Then one Sunday, Rit slipped while he was getting out of the shower. He could hear the phone ring — his son calling to check in — but he’d hit his head and back on the way down and couldn’t move. The apartment manager found Rit lying on the bathroom floor on Monday morning.
The retired U.S. Army officer wasn’t about to give up his independence just because he now needed to use a walker, but he did want to be closer to family. So when his son suggested he move to The Ivy at Ellington, he hesitantly agreed.
What is assisted living like for Rit?
It’s Monday morning at The Ivy at Ellington. Rit’s already eaten breakfast in the “mess hall.”
“That’s my Army lingo,” Rit says — and is now sitting in the pub drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper.
“I’m busy because I do this newscast on Mondays,” he says. “I read the paper and pick out items that we’ll discuss. We don’t talk too much about sports, though, unless the Red Sox or the Patriots win.”
After the news and sports discussion, the former track star heads for the courtyard, where he tries to get in 10 laps a day. “When the Holy Walk-a-Molies Club walks, I’ll usually follow those ladies,” Rit says. “I’m the caboose, but it’s helping me gain strength in my legs.”
After his walk, Rit is ready for lunch. He walks into the dining room and heads straight for “his” table. “I consider it my table — I guess that would be wrong to say — but we do have four guys who usually sit together at the same table.” In between bites of their Philly steak and cheese grinders, the men swap stories about grandchildren and the war and offer beer and movie recommendations.
Then, if Rit is feeling social, he might play Rummikub or Mexican Train. Other times, he might retreat to his room to watch one of his favorite Westerns. “But even the days I sit and watch Westerns, people come in and say hi,” Rit says. “I have a lot of friends here.”
A few minutes before 3 p.m., Rit heads back to the pub for social hour. He orders an IPA — his favorite style of beer — and raises a toast to the ladies.
“They get a kick out of that. Then I’ve started saying, ‘Oh, and let’s make a toast to the young men — if there are any,’” Rit quips. “And then I’ll start an argument with someone, just to start an argument. They know it’s in fun, so the next thing you know, more and more people are getting involved. I try and get as many people involved in the discussion because then they might meet another person they like and then they’ve found a friend.”
What Rit has realized is that assisted living didn’t take away his independence. In fact, he’s regained freedom he lost while living at home alone: Someone else comes in and cleans his room. He doesn’t have to go to the grocery store or make dinner. Someone else plans the trip to The Big E or the New England Air & Space Museum. He doesn’t have to worry about how he’s going to get to his doctor’s appointment.
“You can have a tremendous good time every time you leave your room,” Rit says. “You can’t beat it.”
Rit’s right: At the best assisted living communities, seniors thrive and gain their independence back by getting active and social once again. But not all assisted living communities are created equal.
If you’re searching for the right assisted living community, you want to make sure it is the best fit for your lifestyle and personality. To make the process easier, it helps to form a clear picture of the options that are available, how communities differ from one another, and what makes each community unique.
For a guide to researching assisted living options, download our eBook How to Choose the Right Assisted Living Community.