Women and Health

The Right Time to Make a Move

By Sylvia Zeidner
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sometimes timing is everything. The decision my husband, Phil, and I made last year -- to sell our high-rise condo in a friendly and lively area of North Bethesda and move to a retirement community -- was one of those instances.

We knew about "aging in place" programs designed to prevent seniors like ourselves from being forced into assisted living. On the surface, continuing to age in our beloved home, surrounded by caring longtime neighbors we could count on in an emergency, seemed ideal. But after taking a hard look at our own circumstances and discussing our situation at length with our three adult children, we decided the benefits of this option might be overstated -- at least in our case. The reality was that at 79, I was increasingly limited by a worsening lung condition. Meanwhile, my once-intrepid husband had experienced a series of scary falls that ate away at his confidence and left him reluctant to venture out at all.

A similar scenario had played out before me 25 years earlier. My mother, then in her 80s and increasingly frail, had insisted on remaining in her Florida home after my father died. Timid by nature and having outlived most of her friends and siblings, she became reclusive, lonely and depressed.

My situation was far better. I still had my husband's companionship and two daughters a short drive away. In addition, a forward-thinking social services organization was knocking at our door, offering us amenities such as subsidized door-to-door transportation to doctors and shopping, a visiting nurse and numerous options for socializing and staying connected. But there was a catch. Continuing to live in our own home meant relying on others -- including our daughters, who had their own busy lives -- just to leave the house. In contrast, by moving to a retirement community -- a step I eventually persuaded my mother to take -- I would be taking the bull by the horns. I found that enormously empowering.

It has been a year since we moved into our new home, a comfortable garden apartment in one of about a half-dozen buildings that make up our "community." We usually eat in a communal dining hall. There is a medical center on campus that can attend to most of our needs, or we can choose our own doctor.

It has required an adjustment, to be sure. We are, after all, living in an institutional setting.

There is a bureaucracy to deal with and rules to be followed.

On the plus side, though, we now live in an environment that is adapted to our needs, not the other way around. So once again we are surrounded by diverse and interesting people, but getting together with them is not a hassle. And while I spend a fair amount of time playing bridge and mah-jongg (thus living up to my kids' preconceived image of a retired Jewish lady), I also take college-level English and history classes that are taught on-site through a community college extension program. I am continuously amazed by the variety of entertainment that is brought on-site. In April, for instance, we were treated to a concert by Washington's fabulous Gay Men's Chorus. Who knew?

As I see it, aging gracefully requires coming to terms with the cards we're dealt. And that's where timing comes in. Sooner or later my husband and I were going to have to move out of our home for health reasons. Choosing the right time meant doing it on our terms, not someone else's.

Sylvia and Phil Zeidner live in the Riderwood Community in Silver Spring. Comments:health@washpost.com.

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