Counteracting Social Aging with Congregate Living (Part 1)

From College to Retirement

Having worked in the senior living industry for over 25 years, I marvel at the similarities between living in a dorm and social aging in a senior living community.  Reflecting back to my freshman year at Nazareth College brings back fond memories of my first experience in congregate living.  Kearney Hall, the dormitory to which all freshman were assigned was much more than brick and mortar.  Inside those walls and halls lived all kinds of personalities from all over the state, nation and world.

Life at Ashton Place

In like manner, Ashton Place residents hail from all over the country bringing with them a plethora of experiences and unique personalities.   Accordingly, both dorm life and living in a senior community involves congregate dining.  I was ever so grateful to be able to participate in meals with my fellow dorm mates. We would talk about our dates, term papers and what to wear on Friday night.  I see the same thing happening here at Ashton Place.  People need other people and I see our residents seeking out dinner buddies with whom they have something in common.  Meal time conversations include planning what events and community functions they plan on attending and who won the watermelon seed spitting contest –  it makes for a much more pleasant dining experience.  There is definitely an “emotional nutrient” associated with dining with others.

A close-knit staff makes a close knit-community

My fellow students and I became quite close to the housekeepers who worked so hard to make sure our common areas and bathrooms were spotless and bright.  We were not at all cognizant of the fact that we made an awful lot of work for them and I don’t ever remember them complaining about our slovenly ways.  Nevertheless, they took a keen interest in us and became trusted confidants.  One of the tricks we liked to play involved sneaking into the common bathroom shower area and swiping every towel in sight along with bathrobes and slippers.  We would then quietly stand by while the girls screamed for some clothing!  The housekeepers, especially Polly,  got quite a kick out of this and laughed along with us.  I wonder if they knew how much we liked having them around – not for the laundry service and cleaning – but for the sense of mutual trust and friendship.

I’ve seen this sort of camaraderie unfold between the staff at Ashton Place and the residents.  Bonnie, a long time employee of Ashton Place has fostered friendships with nearly all of the residents she has served over her tenure.  Bonnie has an uncanny ability to make people feel at home.  A consummate multi-tasker, she can carry on a conversation and scrub the bathroom like a pro.  She knows how to connect with people and just like that, small talk evolves into deep conversation, a connection is made and a bond  is forged.  Weekly housekeeping now becomes a time to catch up on what’s going on in one another’s lives.  This reciprocity enhances the emotional well-being of both the resident and the staff member making for a great environment.


Stay tuned for Part II of Counteracting Social Aging.

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