If you're among the millions of people helping their aging parents to make the move from their home to assisted living, you should be aware of the fact that they need a lot of extra “TLC” during this time. While you may be overjoyed at the idea of them getting the kind of “red carpet” treatment you always thought that they deserved, they're more than likely entering a period of mourning over the loss of their home, independence and even their privacy.
According to Joanna Saisan, MSW, Melinda Smith, M.A., Doug Russell, M.S.W., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. in their article “Assisted Living Facilities: Tips for Choosing a Facility and Making the Transition” your parents might be dealing with some serious emotional turmoil. “Stress is just the tip of the emotional iceberg. You may associate grief with the death of a loved one, but grief is a natural response to any loss. And the loss of your home, neighborhood, and community is a big one.”
This means that they might really be looking forward to all of the wonderful things you are, but they may also feel remarkably vulnerable because they're suddenly without the anchor of their long-time home. This is something that has given them pride, independence, and an identity for their entire adult lives. So, consider how to help them smoothly transition away from that home and into what is going to be the final home in which they live.
One thing that many people overlook is the option for counseling and/or therapy. A good assisted living facility will usually have staff that is suitably trained to provide this sort of thing, but if they don’t their social worker is going to be able to point you towards the right direction.
What else can you do? One of the major pointers given to adult children relocating their parents is to avoid trying to assume total control. For instance, don’t try to make the choices about packing. Let them decide which knick knacks and photographs they want, allow them to choose the final date for packing and/or moving day, and don’t even actually inquire about the subject unless they have brought it up first.
Once you arrive at the facility, don’t intrude on their “settling in” process either. Help them to personalize their new home, but don’t try to take the lead or override their decisions. If Mom or Dad wants a photograph in a poorly lit area or in an area that you wouldn’t use, it is their home and not yours – simply help them hang it where they want it to go.
Take a few moments to verbally acknowledge their feelings or give your sympathy. Don’t balk at your mother’s tears over the loss of her home. A parent has memories of their home that you, as their child, will not. For example, they'll envision your first steps, holiday seasons, and the time spent with their spouse. Giving this up is a serious loss, and you must let them know that you understand this. Let them talk to you about it and try very hard not to “minimize” their emotions by being overly positive about the move. If you try to gloss over the tears and turmoil, your parents won’t have adequate time to begin adjusting to the enormous change.
Adult children will often get their parents “settled” into the assisted living facility and then fail to make regular appearances thereafter. This is a horrible thing for any parent to experience and is a reason for serious difficulty with the adjustment from life “at home” to life in the facility. If you can't make frequent visits, then make a point to call each evening during their first few weeks. Be sure to visit within two weeks of their move, and ask them if they need you to bring anything. If you begin letting them see that you view their new home as their official home, and acting as you did when it was their original house, you're helping them to shift gears and perspectives.
Don’t lock them into that location as if they're in some sort of nursing home. Assisted living is radically different from nursing care and your parents need to know that they can come and go as they please, and that they will still be expected to participate in all of the family events. You might want to make a point of taking them out once or twice a month, bringing them to visit other family members, and reminding them that the world outside of the facility is still theirs to enjoy.
One of the major issues of concern for lots of parents as they make the transition is the way that they must now approach problems and concerns. For instance, your father may like to listen to his TV at a very loud volume, but having sensitive new neighbors (even just sharing a wall or two with neighbors) may be a very difficult adjustment. You need to consider how you'll help them to work through problems in this new setting.
Remember that their neighbors are just as permanent as the neighbors in their old home. This means that they can't “burn bridges” or create hardships because this will greatly impact their general quality of life. Workout some sort of protocols for handling their concerns about their new lifestyle, their neighbors and even one another. While you may have never before played the role of mediator with your parents, just remember that they're living through an enormous period of adjustment and will benefit tremendously from someone who can be neutral and keep a cool head about even the most troublesome issues.
So, when your folks make the move to an assisted living facility, you should:
If you follow these suggestions, you'll find that your parents quickly fall in love with their new surroundings and make the transition with as little turmoil as possible.