There are the old who come willingly to a retirement home because they are in pain or disabled. There are the old who come because they have memory problems and can no longer pretend to the world that they are doing better than they really are. There are those who have survived the deaths of family and friends and are ready to retreat from the harshness of the world. Their losses have brought them closer to their own deaths, and they want to make the most of the life they have left. And there are those who experience the retirement home as the last stop before death and begin to withdraw from life when they get there.
Newcomers to assisted living cope with the change in one of two ways: they are either ready to make the change, or they defend against it.
Ellen Stern was ready. When she was in her late eighties, a couple of strangers admired her house, knocked on her door, and Ruth moved to The Hallmark. She was delighted to be without obligation for the first time in a long life. After a few weeks of the regret she felt when she first arrived, she is as active as a volunteer here as she was at home. She showed resilience.
Those who resist the change defend against it in various ways. Defense mechanisms are automatic responses to situations that arouse fear, anger or doubt. Many of these defenses— like Ellen’s resilience—are healthy and self-protective. Others, like identification, can provide a model, good or bad, throughout life.