When Fred and Marie Ibbetson began telling friends they had decided to move into Asbury Place of Maryville, a retirement community, some wondered just what they were thinking.

“We’re not ready for that yet,” Marie said friends told them. One even told them “I still want to have fun.”

This couple, married since 1981, still has fun. They enjoy trips to the mountains. They both sing in the choir at their church, Fairview United Methodist, where Marie is also a Sunday school teacher. The couple takes advantage of the fitness center on campus and an activities center where one night they might participate in a potluck or insert themselves in a game of bridge.

Trips to the Clayton Center, Tennessee Theatre and dinner attraction shows in Pigeon Forge are ways these seniors spend their time. They both said the decision to move to Asbury was “the best decision we could have made.”

The Ibbetsons first arrived in Blount County back in 1996, retiring here at the backdoor of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from Michigan. He worked for a water department and she was a classroom teacher who went on to coordinate a drug prevention program for schools in the state.

Marie said they had been to the Smokies many times before, so when it came to choose a retirement locale, they first decided to expand the possibilities and look elsewhere. “We found ourselves always coming back to this place,” she said. “We decided this is where we wanted to retire.”

But after buying a home in Blount County and enjoying friends and neighbors, the two came to realize it was time to plan for the next phase. Fred said lawn upkeep and routine maintenance on their home were getting to be taxing, for sure. They lived in a neighborhood of younger couples who were away working most days, so socializing was limited.

Then two friends of the Ibbetson’s asked them to come take a tour of Asbury Place. Not to convince the Ibbetsons to move there. The other couple wanted Fred and Marie to serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for them as they sought out a place with assisted care.

“We went home that night and Fred said, ‘You know, that might be an idea for us,’” Marie remembers. A few months later, they moved in.

That was six years ago, in November 2012. They haven’t looked back. Their social circle has certainly expanded. Two of their five children have moved to the area, to now include grandchildren and a 6-year-old great-grandson the Ibbetsons take care of on a regular basis.

Independence intact

This couple chose to live in one of Asbury’s independent cottages, with three bedrooms and two baths. Asbury has assisted living, skilled care, rehabilitation and memory support all on its Maryville campus.

According to Chelsea Irwin, Asbury’s marketing coordinator, there are 110 residents in independent living, 74 in assisted living, 17 in memory care and 113 in the health care center. Dr. Judith Rogers Fruiterman is executive director of Asbury Place, Maryville. She said seniors like the Ibbetsons are making decisions to live in these communities because of all the choices afforded them.

“The magic of the campus concept is a lot about the socialization of creating a brand new community they can become a part of,” Fruiterman said. “They have great contribution. The activity schedule allows them to participate in things they are interested in. We have a brand new activity center. This participation in activities is not just ‘let’s take a dance class,’ but ‘let’s do a dance class with our neighbors.’”

Just recently, Asbury honored its residents who’ve been there for 20 or more years. They include Cartha Wills, Dorothy Merriman, Bob Hayes, Judy Hayes and Ann March. They range in age from 84 to 99.

They are all active seniors who still reside in independent living, Fruiterman said.

Mather LifeWays Institute on Aging in partnership with Northwestern University, is conducting a five-year study on the impact of living in continuing care retirement communities. The Age Well Study is the only national longitudinal study evaluating the impact on cognitive, physical and psychosocial health and well-being.

In the first year, 69 percent of residents reported having a somewhat or greater improved social wellness. They also reported having more healthy living habits, not just exercise.

Fruiterman said when looking from the outside, it might seem like people like the Ibbetsons are retreating or “going in the reservation,” but it’s quite the opposite.

“They are going into an environment where it is more robust than the environments they have come from,” she said. “If you live in a neighborhood, you have to seek out like-minded people that are interested in the same things you are. Here, they don’t have to search out friends to do things with. The friends are built in and are often their neighbors.”

Looking down

the road

Something else to consider, said Marie, is health down the road. Fred is a self-proclaimed fitness nut. He walks one to three miles each day; both he and Marie make good use of the fitness center as well. But, Marie said there may come a time when one or both of them may suffer medical setbacks. They feel comforted knowing Asbury has the assisted living, health center and rehabilitation center should they need them. She is 78 and he is 87.

Fred said he can’t understand why some seniors think this type of community living isn’t for them, or at least not yet. He said too many couples wait until they have declined mentally or physically before taking this step.

“I find that frustrating,” Marie echoed. “We live just like them. We are going to be able to do that longer because we are here. As we age in place, they are meeting our needs.”

Fruiterman said there are indeed benefits to making senior care decisions early.

“It’s the ease of always knowing what will happen if you need it,” she said. “That becomes less of a dominant driver than the experience of actually living here. It’s like reading The New York Times. You don’t have to read it all, but it’s good to know it’s all there.”

What friends are for

The socialization component of the equation is of great importance as well, Fruiterman said. She said seniors who choose to live alone are often isolated. That doesn’t do anyone any service, she said.

“The more connected our people stay, the longer they thrive and have a sense of purpose and enjoyment,” the executive director said.

As for the future, Fruiterman said it’s the job of her and others like her to continually stand on the edge and ask what’s next. She said 65 is the new 45. People are living longer because of advances in health care and technology.

Maybe high-rise apartments will replace spacious cottages as the next model of care. But one thing will remain.

“Wellness will continue to be a pervasive drumbeat of every expanding responsibility in communities like ours,” she said. “We are trusted with the most vulnerable and want the most pristine environments in terms of promoting wellness.”

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