HOW FAMILY CAREGIVERS CAN MAKE MOVING TO ASSISTED LIVING A SMOOTH PROCESS
My mother has always been a fiercely independent woman. But in the year following my father’s death, it became burdensome for her to live and maintain her home on her own. We considered having her join my household so that we could help her continue to lead a comfortable life, but it was important for her to retain as much of her independence as possible despite the change in circumstances. We decided that it was the right time for assisted living and opted for a facility in an area closer to me.
Of course, this decision did not come lightly. We spent a great deal of time researching communities and weighing the pros and cons of each facility for my mother’s situation. Some things we anticipated but other elements of such a move became clear only after we embarked on our transition process. Below are several considerations to keep in mind when moving to assisted living.
Having less independence is hard for some
Though moving an aging parent to an assisted facility can offer many lifestyle, health, and wellness benefits, it can still be a daunting experience for any adult who relishes personal autonomy. For my mother, the realization that she did not have the capability to drive herself around, cook her own food, and march to the beat of her own drum was not a welcome change. She was simply not accustomed to the structure of living in a facility or any apartment setting.
Your parent may feel that moving to a facility renders them more vulnerable and less empowered which is understandable considering that residents depend on others for their well-being. Relying on others was a big obstacle for my mother to overcome and she remained resistant to the very help she needed for several months. Following the move to her first assisted living facility, I made nightly calls to check on the level of service. Anytime she needed assistance she refused to request it. I had to contact the staff personally and most were happy to help.
Even with the most highly rated facilities, assisted living can mean dealing with disruptive situations that are beyond both you and your parent’s control. Such situations can include changes in staff, policies, management, services offered and more. To help with finding a good facility, I share a few tips from my experiences in the Five Things to Consider When Selecting a Senior Living Facility.
Giving up material possessions can be difficult
For seniors living in big cities, renting a space in an assisted living facility won’t differ much from renting an apartment. Conversely, if your parent has lived in the same single-family home for a long while, there is naturally going to be a strong attachment to that home and the memories associated with it. After all, a home is one of the most important personal possessions one can have. The importance of a dwelling, however, may not be fully realized until it is time to leave that space.
Moving to a facility may involve downsizing in either case but will be especially crucial for those moving from a single-family home. Facility apartments or rooms often come with very little closet space and most facilities do not offer onsite storage. Though attachments to sentimental items like decor, pictures, or furniture can be hard to sever, doing so will be a necessary exercise. To be clear, it will be difficult to downsize a houseful of memorabilia to a few items. I offered to keep a few items in my storage space to ease the strife of downsizing for my mother,
Transitioning can be emotionally draining on you and your parents
For some making the move, the transition may involve a potentially heartbreaking move away from family, friends and neighbors. Longstanding relationships that have lasted for well over 30 years are irreplaceable. Yes, communication can be maintained through phone calls and periodic visits but nothing beats the ability to drop by a neighbor’s place throughout the week or regularly attend Sunday church service with a friend. To change the feeling of “goodbye forever” to “ see you in a little bit,” be sure to collect and save contact information (physical addresses, email addresses, and social media handles) from any friends and neighbors with whom your parent wants to stay in touch.
Depending on your parent’s personality type, transitions can take a bigger toll on some. The mere thought of moving to assisted living was especially frightening for someone so self-sufficient as my mother. On the other hand, I have other relatives who found facility life to be more enjoyable than living alone because they valued assistance for daily activities along with the relief of fewer responsibilities.
In hindsight, I believe that my mother experienced a brief period of depression during her transition. She eventually explained how her bouts of anger during the moving process led her to make poor decisions. I distinctly recall how she wavered between wanting to keep everything and wanting to throw everything away during the three days we spent packing. Needless to say, this was an emotional roller coaster that took a toll on us both. This is why it’s a good idea to seek therapy for you or your parent if needed. There are support groups, associations and counselors who offer support to help make transitioning easier for everyone involved.
Trying out the facility in advance can make the process smoother
A great way to help your parent become acclimated to living in a community environment is to take advantage of any short-term or trial stays your prospective facility may offer. Many properties feature furnished rooms where potential tenants can pay a daily rate to stay a few nights. This “try out” stay can give your parent an opportunity to meet residents, experience the dining hall, and participate in community activities. More importantly, as it takes time to find the best type of facility for your loved one, a trial stay can provide assurance to you and your parent that you’ve made a good choice.
Once your parent does move in, staying the night with them and visiting often can help ease anxiety. If your mother or father is really apprehensive—and the facility has guest rooms available— it may be helpful to stay for more than one night. When my mother moved, I stayed with her the first couple of nights for both her comfort and my own. I wanted to familiarize myself with the night shift and get a sense of their attentiveness as I’d learned that the quality of daytime staff may not be consistent with nighttime staff. I also made a point to pop in to visit often. Even though Mom said things were fine, seeing her face-to-face gave me the peace of mind I needed.
Making your parent’s new living space feel like home can help tremendously
A common myth about assisted living is that it is like living in a nursing home and has a hospital or hospice feel to it. Realistically assisted living is simply a home community that gives seniors support with daily living; it’s still very much home.
Decorating this new residence with pictures, flowers, and drapes can go a long way to give it a homey feel, instill a sense of comfort, and personalize the space. In particular, framed pictures of family on display are excellent reminders (for parents and staff alike) that your loved one has people who care about them.
Like many other aspects of caregiving for an aging parent or relative, transitioning your loved one from life in their private homes to life in an assisted facility does have its challenges. Being aware of those challenges and understanding how to minimize them during this process can make your parent’s move a bit easier—and everyone involved a bit happier along the way.
I hope these notes on transitioning make your caregiving journey an easier, healthier and happier one. If you have any insights or recommendations on aiding your aging parent with their transition to an assisted living facility, please feel free to share them here.
Enjoy the journey.