While many of us dislike change, for an elderly person, change can be especially difficult. Dealing with changes in their body, family dynamics and the like is already a tough process, but the notion of leaving home – their home – is probably amongst the toughest transitions an elderly person may face.
As the adult child of an elderly person, you may feel strongly that a move to assisted living is in the best interest of your loved one. For example, safety may have become an issue. However, your opinion may not be readily shared. Your loved one may be leaving a home where they’ve lived for decades – the birthplace of countless years of memories. Moving away is a significant loss, and even if health and safety concerns necessitate the change, it is best to remain sensitive to the emotions that come along with it.
So, how can you create the best possible transition? The following are a few tips that may help make the assisted living facility feel a bit more like home.
First, take an inventory of the personal effects your loved one feels strongly about. While this could include any number of items, from bed linens to a comfortable chair or a painting, having the comforts of home always makes a person feel better. If you are questioning the items you should take, simply ask your loved one which items they feel strongest about. Their answer can, sometimes, truly surprise you. In the midst of these conversations, you may learn about the significance of certain items they cherish (i.e., could be a family heirloom, an item received in their “courting” days, etc.). In any event, it is important you do not simply assume, but that you truly get this part right. The only way to know is to ask.
Second, spruce up their new home with colors, treasures and other items that make the space feel like their own. Photo albums, pictures on the walls, window dressings, etc. are all inexpensive upgrades that can make a world of difference. If your loved one enjoys hosting others at home, sometimes the very simplest gestures (like a candy bowl or other treats) can make this new space feel more like the home they left behind.
Third, begin calling the assisted living center their home. If the place feels like, and is referred to as, a temporary dwelling, your loved one may resist getting comfortable there. You don’t want the assisted living center to feel like a hotel or worse, a hospital – you want your loved one to embrace this new community and to enjoy being in thier new space.
Fourth, speak with the staff about your loved one’s unique personality and how to engage them in this new community. This conversation may actually turn into a brainstorming session, but this will give the staff a better feel for your loved one and what resonates with them. Just like your parents did when you were younger, help them find a peer group with which they can relate. For example, if your parent has relatively little trouble moving around, make sure they meet others who don’t have major mobility issues. Positive social connections are important, and you are his or her best advocate for that.
Finally, nurture and encourage – don’t force. Give your loved one a chance to adjust, but be careful that the transition isn’t taking too long or met with excessive resistance. Watch also for signs of depression, and take the appropriate steps to get help if he or she seems to be falling into a depressed state.