But This Is My Home
The final decision to move from home to assisted living can be difficult for the elderly. Not only are they losing some of their physical independence, they are sacrificing familiar surroundings, privacy, and a part of their own identity.
According to AARP, (http://assets.aarp.org/rgcenter/general/home-community-services-10.pdf) most elders still consider aging in place (i.e. at home) to be the standard, and their ultimate goal. Sometimes that isn't possible, even with support from family, friends, and visiting health professionals.
Ideally, the transition will be slow, allowing seniors the time to adjust the idea of permanently changing residences. Again, this is not always possible or practical. There are ways to make the change easier for everyone involved, though.
Project Your Emotions Carefully
Before you do anything else, you have to talk to your loved one about moving. Your loved one is going to be watching you closely during this time. If they have dementia, they may be trying to read your body language for clues as to how feel themselves. Even those with no mental health issues will be examining you to weigh your response.
If you seem overly sad or troubled about the move, they may feel that you are sentencing them to some really horrible place. After all, if the new facility is so good for them, then why are you seemingly dreading the move?
On the other hand, if you are too enthusiastic, they might feel that you are excited about "getting rid of them". This can cause them to feel angry, sad, or depressed about the fact that they can no longer care for themselves.
The key is to find not just a smooth balance between these two emotions, but to base your attitude on your own, individual loved one. You know this person better than anyone else, and now is the time to base your attitude about the move to assisted living on how what they need. Not necessarily how you really feel.
When I spoke to a few local seniors about how they felt when their children or other relatives suggested long-term care, they helpfully suggested several things NOT to say to an elder who is worried about moving:
Whereas these may all turn out to be true, seniors don't always appreciate being treated like children headed off for their first day of Kindergarten. A simple, grown-up conversation about the pros and cons of both living at home and moving to assisted living will go a lot farther towards convincing your loved one that you care about their well-being, not just un-burdening yourself of extra responsibilities.
What About My Things?
Sadly, many people don't understand why the elderly can't just let go of all their "junk". Shouldn't they be tired of all that same old stuff after all these years?
Well. No. Just like you probably wouldn't want to get the surprise news that you have to move within a week or two and can only take a handful of your possessions with you. The elderly have just as much right to be attached to their things, especially as many of them have great sentimental value.
You should know the facility's policies about furnishings and personal items before the packing and moving begins, since all places will have different rules and regulations. Most assisted living homes allow a great deal of personalization though, so you can assure your loved one that they won't be totally without some familiar items.
During the preparation phase, promise to help with sorting and packing different items. Not everything will go, so your loved one will have to make some difficult choices.
One way to ease their minds is to offer to store the majority of their things. This might be costly if you have to rent a storage locker, but the peace of mind can make it worthwhile. After a few months or so, your loved one may be more willing to let those things go one at a time.
When sorting items, create piles or lists in these categories:
It may take quite some time to go through an entire house this way. But if many items are sold, given away, etc. then there is less to store. If your loved one seems agitated or has dementia and can't understand the concept, you may try just separating the things to take with them, and then promising to lock up the home and watch over it for awhile. Many with dementia take great comfort in thinking that they will return home someday when they are well, so seeing their house emptied before they move could cause unnecessary stress.
Preparing the New Living Quarters
How much room a senior will have depends on the individual facility. You should make sure that you see and measure the new room/s ahead of time so that you can accurately gauge how much furniture will fit.
Choose practical pieces to move along. Furniture that is multipurpose, such as ottomans or storage benches are great. Just make sure that the finished arrangement leaves clear walkways and a "real" feeling. You don't want it to feel claustrophobic, like you were desperately trying to fit in every piece of furniture possible.
Consult with your loved one before each decision. You might think the room would look great with new curtains, but your mom might want the ones she had in her living room instead. If she wants new curtains, let her pick them!
For units with kitchens, move familiar dishes if your loved one wishes them. Try to store everything as similarly as possible to their home kitchen to avoid confusion.
Make sure there are night lights and lamps in appropriate places. Anyone can become disoriented and lost in new quarters until they adjust. Lights will help prevent falls and bumps into furniture that isn't "where it should be".
The bathroom should be set up like the kitchen, with items in easy-to-access locations that seem as familiar as possible. Your loved one can always move things around later as they please.
And of course, set up hobby supplies near a favorite chair (and preferably good lighting). The room may feel cleaner if books and such are hidden away in storage units, but that won't make your loved one feel at home.
If possible, take them with you to help decorate and prepare the room. Let them choose where to hang favorite photos or where to place doilies, pillows and lamps. Promise them that you will help them re-arrange things in the future if they decide they don't like the current configuration.
But Everything Is So Strange Here...
It can be very overwhelming and confusing to go from the quiet of your own home to a busy, residential community. Think back to that first day of school, college, or summer camp. Your loved one won't know anyone, won't know the routines, and won't be sure where to go and when.
A facility with a great staff can really help in this situation. But so can you. Tour the facility with your loved one. Make sure they know where all the important rooms are, where to meet with others (and when), and which staff members are there to help with each question or issue that might arise.
Take time to stop and chat with other residents. It won't take long for news to get around that someone new is moving to the "neighborhood", and friendly people will be eager to meet and greet your loved one.
I'll Still Be Lonely
Yes. Even if your loved one has lived at home alone for years, and even if they will now be surrounded by many people, they may still be afraid of being lonely. Really, they are afraid of isolation from their family members.
Make sure the have a way to reach you at all times. Include either a standard phone or buy them a mobile phone that is easy to use, and has your number set to speed dial.
You can also include a computer if your loved one is interested and capable of using it. Being able to communicate via social media or email can relieve the feeling of isolation.
Lastly, make sure that you visit and call frequently in those first few weeks. Encourage others to do so as well. Not just family either. Make sure old friends and neighbors know that they are welcome too. Those who live farther away should be asked to write or send a card occasionally too.
It May Not Be Home, But It Is Okay
Don't feel guilty if your loved one takes time to adjust. It may take months before they are fully comfortable and settled in.
or most seniors, a residential facility is never going to feel exactly like home. But the majority of residents will adapt just fine and enjoy the new community. If, after a certain amount of time, your loved one still seems out-of-sorts or unhappy, there may be a problem with the facility that you need to look into. Especially if your loved one seems to be doing worse, either physically or emotionally.
It may take time and a lot of planning on your part to create a smooth transition from home to assisted living. In the end, the result will be well worth the effort, as your loved one will feel safe and secure, and you will have peace of mind knowing that they really are in the best place for their needs.
Copyright © 2014 by Jayme Kinsey
Article by Jayme Kinsey exclusively for Assisted Living Directory Related Article: An Assisted Living Success Story