Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Making Friends in Assisted Living

Nervous about making friends in assisted living? At Highgate, you don’t have to be.

Won’t You Be My NeighborFor some older adults, the biggest obstacle when considering moving to assisted living isn’t moving out of their house. It’s the fear that when they move into the community, they won’t know anyone.

It can be intimidating moving to a place where you don’t know anyone. Nobody wants to walk into the dining room and feel displaced, fearful, or alone. Although making new friends in assisted living might seem scary, there are many ways for new residents to find their way.  

Here is a look at some of the ways Highgate Senior Living welcomes new residents into the family as well as some of the friendships that have been forged.

Purposeful Life Interviews

When Marion first moved into Highgate at Prescott, she was shy and hesitant, recalls Life Enhancement Coordinator John Stephenson, who stopped by her room to introduce himself and get to know her a little bit better.

“The best tool I have for getting to know my residents is our Purposeful Living Interview,” Stephenson says.

It’s a tool Highgate team members use to understand what brings meaning to each resident’s day and to elicit ideas and information that allows them to plan programming for the residents so they can continue to live a life of purpose.

Stephenson also uses the Purposeful Living interview to help him identify who the new residents might be compatible with.

“If someone says they like model airplanes, well, I’ve got this database and I can find five other guys into the same thing,” he says. “So, I’ll invite them all to dinner. I’ll bring the new guy to the table and say: ‘John, you’re interested in model airplanes. Bob is a huge fan, too. I think you’ll have a lot to talk about.’”

After getting to know Marion, he walked her to the dining room and introduced her to a few people he hoped she’d make a connection with. She joined a table with a couple and another woman — and they’ve been eating together ever since.

Resident Ambassadors

Living at home can be isolating. It’s one of the reasons why moving to assisted living is so beneficial: Assisted living residents gain access to a strong social environment and support network.  

“One of the biggest fears of moving into an assisted living community is that they're still going to be lonely,” says Megan Wilson, Community Relations Coordinator at Highgate at Billings. “Nobody wants to be the lone person walking into a dining room or an activity. That’s as big of fear as giving up their home. They want to feel companionship and love, and they’re worried they won’t get that.” 

“That’s the great part of the Resident Ambassador program,” Wilson continues. “Those are residents who felt that fear themselves and then went out of their way to make sure new residents feel loved.”

Highgate communities have a Resident Ambassador program, with seasoned residents who have lived at Highgate for a while, to show new residents the ropes. Once the Highgate team members have completed the Purposeful Living Interview and the Life Story Interview, team members better understand the history of each of the residents and share their story with other residents. Then, they reach out to someone in the Resident Ambassador program who has something in common with the new resident.

The Resident Ambassador will welcome the new member to the community with a gift basket and by introducing them to others and inviting them to activities and events.

“Having a Resident Ambassador program in place helps the new resident adjust to Highgate at a quicker and smoother rate,” says Mandy Ketcham, Community Relations Coordinator at Highgate at Yakima. “This also allows family members to feel confident that their loved one will make friends. They seem to be less worried that their loved one won’t adjust or fit in.”

Adventure Time

If you think friendships are the only type of relationship to blossom in assisted living, think again. Norm and Carol met at Highgate at Bozeman — in the dining room, to be exact. Right away, Norm noticed Carol was cute.

“Oh, shucks,” Carol says.  

“Probably the first thing you noticed about me was that I was fairly handsome and was a very funny guy,” Norm interjects presumptuously, though he’s right.

The two started enjoying all of their meals together, meeting up in the bistro for Happy Hour, going to concerts at Montana State University, and exploring local museums. After months of courtship, Norm and Carol got their families together to share the news: They’d be moving into and sharing an independent living apartment at Highgate. 

“Our families thought it was really cool that Carol and I are together,” Norm says.

But Norm and Carol haven’t just found each other. They’ve also found countless more friends through living at Highgate. On the weekends, they all drive about an hour away to a bar in the little mountain town of Pony, Montana, to go dancing.

“What’s cool about their relationship is they’ve created a group of friends,” says Executive Director Steve Beaudoin. “Folks who just wanted to get out and be active and do things. Carol and Norm have been instrumental in creating this unique social group. It’s not cliquey. It’s just who happens to be there when they’re doing their adventures.”

If you or a loved one are nervous about moving to a community where you don’t know anyone, Norm has a few pieces of advice: “Don’t be intimated. Get involved. It’s important to be open-minded, participate, and get to know people. Treat it as a new adventure if you can!”

If you’re ready to embark on a new adventure, schedule a tour at Highgate today.

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