Community is a truly beautiful treasure. Last week I was at my local grocery store. I noticed the young supervisor and the bagger were chatting and no customers were around. I placed my two items on the belt and said, “You two look bored so here I am!” We all began to joke. I don’t really know them but I know them from seeing them frequently. At the local Mexican restaurant, I am always greeted with, “Kim! How are you?” when I walk in. When my neighbor goes out of town, she asks me to collect her mail. These are examples of the benefits of community. There is a feeling of belonging, and importance, of not being anonymous in a large setting.
There are different roles in the community. There are the leaders, both political and commercial. We depend upon them to get things done that benefit us all. The grocer, the pharmacist, the coffee shop, the music store, and the fish market. The doctor, the realtor, the mayor, the teacher, and the police chief. All of these people organize the community and give it structure. The rest of us support the community and create the network necessary to make it thrive. We all matter to one another in a community.
When one truly feels a part of a community one feels a certain ownership of it. The grocery store, mail person, park, and schools are ours. The people, the landmarks, the weather, and the very leaves of the trees belong to us. There is security and peace from the familiarity of all the things that make up our sense of community.
When one moves to a new home, especially a long-term care home, there is an end to being part of a former community and the need to start fresh in a new community. Think about how long it has ever taken you to get used to a new community whether it was a city, a neighborhood, or a company. When an aging person has to take on the challenge of adapting to a new community, especially a long-term care residence it is harder. There are often health worries, uncertainties about the future and the requirement to become dependent upon strangers for help. There may be dementia that adds a dimension of confusion to the relocation. This level of adaptation takes time; it may be months before the person says with ownership, “These are my aides and nurses; this is my dining room, these aremy neighbors and friends.” Or better yet states, “I’m in charge of this committee, or I helped plant those flowers, or this is where I take my weekly class.”
A question that might arise in response to the adjustment period would be, “Should I take mom to visit her old home?” That depends upon the individual and how tough the adjustment is. For someone with advanced dementia, returning to a familiar setting for a brief visit might cause confusion and aggravation when it is time to return to the new community. For someone who is mentally healthy and played a big part in the choice to move to a long-term care community, it might be an excellent idea to go back to the old home to see familiar faces and sights on a regular basis. However, as a mother who has just seen her second child off to college, I think there is an advantage in immersion in the new community before going back to the old. Allowing someone a few weeks or months to develop ties to their new surroundings may then make it easier to travel back and forth between the old and new communities with ease.
Community is so valuable to our mental well-being. It is more than just a physical home; it is a home for our hearts and minds. Helping someone to feel part of their community is a gift no matter how long it takes to achieve it.