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Senior Citizen's Guide to Detroit

More Freedom, Greater Happiness—With Retirement Living

The term “retirement community” doesn’t necessarily conjure up positive images among those of a certain age, although it should. Indeed, its undeserved reputation as a way station or one-way street does a disservice to the often compassionate, doting staff members who truly care about the residents in their communities, not to mention the residents themselves. Don’t let the fear of losing your independence hinder you from considering this option—in fact, retirement living offers those entering the second half of life the opportunity to continue to contribute to their communities while leading rich, fulfilling personal lives ripe with promise.

I know from personal experience that the decision to move yourself or a loved one to a retirement community is often complex. However, while leaving a home you’ve spent years building and nurturing doesn’t come with its fair share of heartbreak, you ultimately gain a community in return, and that makes all the difference. It may sound contradictory, but once you have your basic needs met, you’ll have more opportunities to engage in what one might call “leisure activities.” The industry’s top communities offer 24/7 staff, housekeeping services, transportation to and from appointments and errands, as well as exquisite gourmet meals daily, giving you the freedom to do all of the things you’ve dreamt of doing, but never had the time to do. And after all these years, you deserve it.

What kinds of activities can retirement communities provide? While each community has its own individual characteristics and idiosyncrasies, most offer a combination of classes, educational classes, family events, volunteer opportunities and the like. For the civic-minded, opportunities to plan and participate in fundraisers for local chapters of the National Honors Society, for example, not only offer much in the way of personal fulfillment, they also give you a chance to give back to your community. With civic institutions crumbling under the weight of an increasingly technology-driven and isolated society, today’s youth can stand to learn from the experience of our “Greatest Generation.”

Not that all technology fosters isolation, of course. Many retirement communities offer computer courses to bring residents up to speed and make sure they remain connected to their friends, family and community. Skype, for example, allows anyone to video chat live, computer-to-computer, entirely free of charge—allowing residents to stay in touch with their grown kids and grandchildren, even if they happen to live several states away. Software can now help you stay healthy as well. Wii Fit is just one program that can help you stay active on days you can’t go outside. Just as an example, this program allows you to play tennis or strike down some bowling pins using a remote that engages your body in the full range of movement.

Of course, there’s no true substitute for the real deal. Again, while I can’t speak for all retirement communities, most senior living communities worth their salt offer an array of exercise classes and activities specifically geared toward residents’ continued well-being. Seniors should particularly focus on balance and core strength, as falls are the single biggest cause of fatal and non-fatal injury in people 65 and older. Tai Chi is especially effective in this regard, improving balance, gait and strength. Yoga, balloon volleyball and table tennis are other activities that can help improve balance and improve your overall well-being.

Speaking of well-being, one of the most common concerns facing older adults centers on the need for occasional medical attention. While they do not provide the range of services that, say, a nursing home might provide, many retirement communities do offer some form of treatment services, whether through on-site services or experienced, third-party independent contractors. For many, simply the chance to delegate tasks such as coordinating caregivers, paying medical bills and tallying each and every medication to a trained professional alleviates fuss and stress.  This alone can make living in a retirement living community worthwhile.

As the saying goes however, man does not live by bread alone (although many communities offer delectable dining menus!). Retirement communities should and often do provide a host of cultural activities for their residents to enjoy. Frequently, these “villages” (so to speak) exist as communities within communities, and the larger towns offer festivals, concerts, restaurants, movies and more. After all, we can’t expect residents to put off their social lives simply because they’ve retired—rather, it’s a time to enjoy life! Having that extra bit of help that retirement communities provide can actually free up time for residents to regain their active lifestyles, which can lead to deeper social bonds, improved mental acuity and most importantly, greater happiness.

I don’t flatter myself in thinking that living in a retirement community is the right fit for everyone. I’ve known plenty of people who’ve strongly benefited from making the move and have no regrets, but this is an important decision that demands careful consideration from all the decision-makers involved. The most important thing is to thoroughly explore your options and keep an open dialogue with family members.

I hope my small “tour” of the benefits of a retirement community has helped shed some light on the process and demonstrate that no matter their age, a quality retirement community can help all seniors come into their own and shine.

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