When the time comes that a parent can no longer continue to live safely at home, emotions may be running high. Medical conditions, growing fragility, loneliness, or an inability to care for oneself will force families to rethink the best living arrangement for their senior loved one. These can be intensely personal decisions. And though after the fact, transitioning to assisted living is usually considered a positive change, there can be many uncomfortable moments on the road to that outcome.
For the older individual, this is a major life event, akin to getting married, giving birth, or even grieving a loss. There are, in fact, real and perceived losses that must be met and accepted. Leaving one’s longtime home, parting with valued possessions, leaving friends and familiar places behind, and surrendering some measure of privacy and independence are all considerations that can trigger anxiety.
Adult children may have even more difficulty with the transition to assisted living than their parents. Many feel guilty about their role in uprooting a parent from their longtime home, or because they’re unable to personally resolve the issues their parents are facing. Any move into a new home introduces some degree of stress, but particularly when the safety of an older loved one becomes a factor. When a parent becomes increasingly susceptible to falling, taking the wrong medications, losing weight from an inability to cook, or any number of other challenges, thinking about moving into an assisted living community is the responsible thing to do. And with some preparation and support, it can be a positive change for everyone involved. Try these tips to help your parent transition to assisted living.
One key component to a smooth transition to an assisted living community is to start searching for the right place before the imperative to move is upon you. Ideally, you and your loved one should be planning for and considering options for months or even years in advance. Taking a longer view lowers everyone’s stress level and allows more time to adjust and make more informed choices.
Two of the biggest hurdles for seniors facing a move are fear of the unknown and a loss of control. This often manifests as resistance and can short-circuit not only the transition to assisted living, but the idea of moving at all. Begin the downsizing process years in advance of the move if possible. Your parent needs plenty of time to work through which possessions can be kept and which have to go. It simply takes time to process letting go of so many things, reminiscing about them, and then beginning to look ahead toward life’s next adventure. Senior move managers who specialize in organizing, downsizing, packing, and helping set up the new home of their senior clients can offer crucial emotional support in addition to these logistical services. You might reach out to one early in the transitioning process.
As much as possible, involve your parent in the research and touring of potential assisted living communities. They may feel discouraged and disengage themselves from the process as time passes. You’ll have to pull them back in by discussing amenities, location, residence features, and so on. With certain issues like financing, you may have to take the lead. Putting costs on paper, discussing and comparing, can help keep a parent focused and enthusiastic.
Your loved one will be moving to assisted living, but it may not be long before they need a higher level of care. It’s better to err on the side of having more services in place rather than having to search for a new location later. Ask about the availability and flexibility of health services before moving a parent into an assisted living community.
Giving up regular, in-person contact with friends and companions from one’s neighborhood can be especially difficult for older people. Maintaining some level of contact can be helpful for their cognitive and emotional well-being. You might try to arrange periodic visits back to the old neighborhood, perhaps breakfast in a favorite restaurant, and invite some of your parent’s closest friends and neighbors. If it’s possible for your parent to remain under the care of their hometown physician, that too can make for a smoother transition and keep continuity in your loved one’s care. Try to have the doctor work in tandem with the care team at the assisted living community.
Take advantage of lectures, lunches, and other community-sponsored events to get to know people and develop a sense of how the community operates. Encourage your parent to be open to new friendships there. If it’s possible to attend or audit a class at the new community, try to arrange that. Visiting the community over time can tell you a lot and help your loved one grow comfortable with the idea of living there. The more familiar they are with the community beforehand, the easier their transition will be.
If you can, spend the first few days staying in a guest suite at the new community or in a hotel nearby. Meet your parent in the morning and walk with them everywhere — to and from the dining room, the mail room, to the day’s activities, and wherever housekeeping and other services are located to help orient them to the new routine and where to go when they need something. Walking the new routes together is important because people have somatic memory even if they’ve begun to lose some cognitive memory. But be careful not to overdo it or stay too long. You don’t want to inhibit your parent’s sense of independence. Spending time together is important, but if all their transition time is spent with family, they won’t be making new friends and being as involved in the community as they should.
Your parent has been living independently, caring for others, raising a family, and taking care of a home for their entire lives. The experience of moving to an assisted living facility can feel as if they’re losing independence and becoming reliant on others. Many older adults don’t like the idea of becoming a “burden” to anyone else, and some feel great shame and an accompanying loss of dignity. Try to focus on the positive. Talk about things that will stay the same or improve — her new book club with friends at the community, or the weekly card game she enjoys with the grandkids. These and other activities and traditions can all still be part of her life in an assisted living setting.
Assisted living at Friendship Village is designed to keep residents well and independent longer, with innovative wellness programs and technologies. Our communities in Sunset Hills and Chesterfield, are the only Life Care communities in St. Louis. Our experience can help ease the transition for your senior loved one and open a new chapter in their life’s journey. Please feel free to contact us with questions.