The transition to assisted living can be an emotional time for seniors, their families and friends. From moving away from friends and neighbors, to letting go of belongings that often hold a lifetime of memories and sentimental value, the transition can be difficult.
While starting a new chapter in life can be challenging and comes with an adjustment period, many seniors find the transition to assisted living opens a world of opportunities once they are settled.
Knowing what to expect ahead of time can help older adults, as well as their family and friends, find the best community and the appropriate level of support to make the transition smooth and successful for all parties involved.
It’s important to remember that everyone handles change differently. Some seniors may be excited for the next chapter and look forward to making new friends and joining an engaging community that will meet their social and health care needs. Others may be a little more reluctant, or even resistant, to the changes.
There is no right or wrong way to approach the situation. While there are steps that can be taken to ease the transition for new assisted living Residents along with their families and friends, the most important thing is to be patient and compassionate and allow everyone to adjust according to their own needs and timeline.
What to Expect When Transitioning to Assisted Living
Get Acquainted with Staff and Residents Before the Move
A great deal of thought, research and planning is typically involved when looking for the best assisted living community for a family member or friend. However, talking about moving and making the actual move can be very different experiences.
Once the decision has been made, taking time to become familiar with the community can help ease some of the fear and apprehension that may be involved regarding the move. Staff and Residents are typically more than willing to talk with other seniors and potential new Residents about their experiences in the community.
Take a pre-move tour, where seniors or their family and friends can ask questions and Residents can make plans for their new apartment and learn about the social and recreational activities they may want to try.
Make the Actual Move Easier with Meaningful Items and Storage Spaces
Depending on the size of a senior’s home and the extent of their belongings, chances are downsizing will be necessary. While they will not be able to take everything to their new home, key items can instantly make the new residence feel more welcome and familiar.
Decorative pillows, quilts, pictures, books and pieces of art that are easy to relocate can make a senior feel more comfortable in their new surroundings. Once it’s been settled on what to take, shopping for a few new items like towels or decorative pieces can also help to create a feeling of excitement for the new space.
Minimizing belongings can introduce a refreshing and manageable way of life, but letting go of a lifetime of possessions can be extremely difficult for anyone. If the process of letting go is causing too much stress, anxiety or resentment, consider renting a temporary storage unit to keep the items an older adult cannot bear to part with, but cannot take with them to their new residence.
As time goes by, and they get used to the new living space, revisit the idea of discarding or donating the items they no longer need.
There Will be an Adjustment Period for Everyone
Even if the older adult who is moving is excited and looking forward to it, the first few days, weeks and even months can still be overwhelming, and it may take some time to get used to a new living environment and new neighbors.
Try not to put too much pressure on the Resident to adjust to and embrace their new home and life right away. Allow for the transition process to flow at a pace that is best for them. Most seniors become very active and engaged in their new home after the initial adjustment period.
Planning activities and strategies for staying socially engaged in their new community can prevent older adults from feeling lost once they arrive. In addition to the community-planned activities and events, there are independent and simple activities seniors can do on their own to improve cognition and emotion.
If a Resident is shy, introverted or has difficulty adjusting, speak to a staff member to help them get the support they need. Some gentle encouragement to sign up for a class or a simple introduction to other Residents from a trusted staff member can make all the difference early in the transition. Mealtime is also a great way to connect with neighbors and learn more about the community.
The transition to assisted living is most profound for the Resident, but it also affects their family. Factors like distance, visiting hours and a new schedule will most likely impact old routines. Working together to establish new habits and routines can help ease the strain and possible sense of loss.
New Residents Will Need a Little Space
Some family members and friends understandably experience feelings of guilt or anxiety when someone close to them transitions to assisted living. If a Resident’s family member or friend lives close enough to their new home to visit regularly, they may be tempted to spend as much time with the Resident as possible in the beginning.
While it is important to maintain contact and for the senior to stay engaged with family and friends outside of their new community, it is also essential to give them space and freedom to make new friends and establish their independence in their new environment. Family and friends can call occasionally as a reminder to the older adult that they have support.
When you do visit, make an effort to build relationships with staff and neighbors, be flexible and try to work around the senior’s new schedule and routine. Pick up a calendar of events to make it handy for the new Resident to join in.
Care Needs Are Likely to Evolve Over Time
Older adults’ necessary level of care may change and fluctuate over time, which is normal and to be expected. Staff members consistently observe Residents and communicate with them or a designated family member or friend when more care may be necessary.
This can range from more assistance with activities of daily living, medication reminders or possible transition to memory care.
Learn more about a Continuum of Care here.
Ask for Support and Resources
Every transition and new phase in life comes with unexpected challenges; moving to assisted living is no exception. Take advantage of resources available for Residents, their family members and friends.
If the transition is difficult or does not go smoothly, continue to seek available support and be patient with the process as a Resident becomes more comfortable in their new home.
Keep in mind that assisted living residences can be the ideal solution to a senior’s health and independence.
For additional information on assisted living and senior health and retirement communities, visit SALMON Health and Retirement’s website.