Moving in a pandemic

Why now may be the ideal time to transition to a senior community

Happiness of two senior people in empty room playing like children in relocation happy for new beginning like retired with moving boxes on the floor

With another Minnesota winter approaching and a pandemic that continues to curtail normal activities of daily living, many people may be asking themselves whether now is the right time to downsize and move into a senior living community. The mere idea of shoveling snow is reason enough to sell your belongings and begin a more carefree lifestyle. But can moving be done safely in the wake of the coronavirus? Here’s how to make this transition and why this year may prove to be a good time to move.

Top reasons for moving

When Jean Hood’s husband, Rob, began experiencing health issues last year, they decided it was time to stop being snowbirds and start talking seriously about living closer to family. In a whirlwind of activity, they sold their home in just a few days, reserved a two-bedroom apartment at Savage Senior Living at Fen Pointe and packed for a move-in date of March 16, 2020 — a date which would become Day 1 of a COVID-19 lockdown.

“We were obviously unprepared to move in a pandemic,” Hood said. “Being in quarantine and rushing movers and family members out before noon was stressful, but everyone was accommodating, making sure we stayed positive during the whole thing.” Like so many others, Hood’s family hasn’t been able to come back to visit indoors since they left that afternoon. But she feels connected to others. “The staff have been amazing in finding activities that keep people together while main- taining social distancing.”

In 2015, a Varsity Branding study (Project Looking Glass II) revealed the top three reasons for moving to a senior living community: a change in a partner’s health, a change in your own health and wanting freedom from home maintenance and repairs. In 2020, senior housing special- ists in the Twin Cities are hearing “fear of isolation” as the primary driver.

Three months into the pandemic, Mahryam Daniels couldn’t wait to sell her home and move into Knollwood Place Apartments, an independent living community. “I was excited for the newness, social interaction and connections with making new friends,” said Daniels. She’s found the staff to be nothing short of kind, welcoming and respectful while making resident and employee safety a priority.

Get help moving

Once the decision to move has been made, the process of downsizing itself can be overwhelming. Enter professional senior move managers, who specialize in helping older adults and families with a variety of services.

These resources are available to not only help you select the best living situation for your specific needs but also to assist up to move-in day, from creating a safe layout to unpacking and stocking the fridge. The biggest roles these experts may play, though, are those of mediator and companion in maintaining peace in the family and being a partner throughout the entire moving experience.

Laurie Wrobel, owner of Clutter 911, joked that one of the advantages of hiring help who can serve as a neutral third party is not having to argue with loved ones over who will get the “27 empty Cool Whip containers.” She and other specialists note that the hardest part is letting go of things that no longer have value. There are often stories connected with them that the person likes to share, whether they save it or discard it in some fashion. “I can be that non-judgmental person, asking questions and engaging the person throughout the process, without all the family history.”

When Bev Page moved into Brookdale Senior Living in Edina during the pandemic, she and her family hired Gentle Transitions to prepare her three-level townhome for sale and pack up the essentials for her new one-plus-bedroom apartment. “This service was so helpful,” said Page. “They came in, asked questions, packed up everything — including hanging pictures on my walls.”

Senior move managers also coordinate and manage professional moving companies on behalf of their clients. Wroebel stated that the most noticeable differences in moving since COVID-19 are the requirement to wear masks and the restrictions on the number of people who can enter a facility together. For families or individuals who may prefer to pack and move on their own, Wroebel and others offer a few tips: Start early, work your way through the kitchen first and pack as you go.

From a safety perspective, be sure to have sanitizer, gloves and disinfectant easily accessible when you enter your new abode. Lastly, contact your new building and the moving company to understand the most up-to-date safety policies and procedures.

Basement Dining

Basement Dining
Hiring a moving service that specializes in working with seniors can make order out of chaos (top photo), packing your belongings and organizing your new home. Photos courtesy of Clutter 911

Welcoming new residents

Having a sense of belonging and understanding expectations upfront helps newcomers adjust quickly to their new home, according to Cindy Ehlen, director of resident services at The Glenn in Minnetonka. “Once residents move in,” said Ehlen, “they love it here and see this as a new beginning rather than the end.”

Linda Ulrich, director of sales and outreach at Savage, is a bit of a match- maker with newcomers. Doris Lazarski, a recent widow, was more than a little nervous about what life would be like in her new environment when she moved to Savage in June 2020. “I had a feeling that Jean (Hood) and Doris were going to hit it off,” said Ulrich, “and they became BFFs (best friends forever) from the moment they met.” They’re now each other’s emotional support and activities partner, making sure to get outside and take daily walks — six feet apart, of course.

Leaving a family home, pandemic or not, can be a difficult time in one’s life. Thankfully, there are many resources, compassionate caregivers and services to help ease one into this next phase. For Lazarski and Hood, moving into a senior community was one of the best decisions they have made. Lazarski wishes she and her late husband could have made this move together, yet she’s enjoying life with Hood by her side. Not even the coronavirus can break the power of connecting.


10 Questions When Considering a Move

After location, amenities and cost have been considered, Diane Lucas, director of marketing, communications and business development at Catholic Eldercare, suggests you focus on safety protocol. That should include how facilities are managing activities to keep residents engaged and what the policies are around visitation with family, friends and caregivers. Use these questions to learn how a facility is operating during the pandemic:

  1. How many COVID-19 cases have you had in your community?
  2. Is there a separate area for residents that test positive?
  3. How would you handle another wave of COVID-19?
  4. What types of communications do residents receive? Frequency? Format (including Braille, etc.)?
  5. How do you use technology to support residents?
  6. What medical services are available?
  7. How are meals handled?
  8. What COVID training is provided to employees?
  9. What is your pet policy?
  10. What is your policy for visitors?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

For the most up-to-date pandemic safety guidelines, contact these organizations:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/coronavirus or call 800-232-4636.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services: cms.gov or call 800-633-4227 (Medicare) or 877-486-2048 (Medicare TTY).

Minnesota Department of Health: health.state.mn.us, 651-201-5000, 888-345-0823 (For Minnesota callers outside the metro area, toll-free)

Senior LinkAge: minnesotahelp.info, 800-333-2433

For a description of senior housing options:

seniorliving.org/housing

To locate senior move management services:

National Association of Senior & Specialty Move Managers (NASMM): nasmm.org

MN Help: mnhelp.info


Sheryl Stillman is a former retail executive turned consultant and freelance writer. Residing in Minnetonka, she is the proud mom of two and a cockapoo. Learn more at SherylOnline.com.